Bell ready to start work on Bahreini AH-1Z Vipers

Paolo Valpolini

Following the signing of the contract announced on 7 February 2019 by the US Department of Defence, the acquisition of 12 Bell AH-1Z Viper helicopters by the Royal Bahraini Air Force is becoming reality, as the company started to acquire the long lead parts that will lead in 2020 to the assembly of the first aircraft.

The helicopters are acquired through a Foreign Military Sales contract and therefore are part of the USMC Light/Attack Helicopters programme (PMA-276) that includes both the UH-1Y utility and the AH-1Z attack aircraft. Currently the specific configuration for Bahrain is in the latest phases of discussion, a conference being planned at Camp Pendleton in December with Bahraini officer to finalise freeze it, something expected for late 2019 or early 2020.

A number of systems will be government furnished, i.e. General Electric T-700 GE 401C engines, Thales’ TopOwl helmet-mounted display system, M197 20 mm guns, as well as optronic and electronic on board systems. Air-to-surface armament should include Lockheed Martin Hellfire missiles and BAE Systems APKWS (Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System) 70 mm guided rockets. These should be part of separate contracts. Models exhibited at BIDEC 2019 carried air-to-air missiles, however it is unclear if these will be adopted or not by Bahrain. Bell plans to deliver the first four aircraft in 2021, the remaining eight being delivered the following year, the last being scheduled for August. To date the Royal Bahraini Air Force fields 22 AH-1 E/F Cobra and eight AH-1P.

Photos by Paolo Valpolini