This article first appeared in Aerospace Daily & Defense Report.
Positive reports are streaming in from U.S. Marines flying newly remanufactured AH-1Z Cobra and UH-1Y Huey helicopters, but the program office is not losing focus on its substantial legacy fleet.
The pace of new aircraft deliveries has been aggressive, with the most recent AH-1Z delivered more than three months ahead of schedule. That aircraft was the first built after a yearlong break to speed production of the UH-1Y, said Col. Harry Hewson, H-1 Upgrade program manager. The latest Y-model of the 23 delivered so far was more than two months ahead of schedule. Nine UH-1Ys are flying in combat in Afghanistan. Although Hewson is now focused on getting the AH-1Z through operational testing, "we still have lots of [AH-1W] helicopters that will fly for a long time. We're trying not to shortchange those guys."
The W-model Cobra will soon benefit from a night targeting system upgrade. The early 1990's-era forward-looking infrared and nose camera will be vastly improved, Hewson said. "We didn't invest a huge amount of money, but we got lots of bang for our buck."
Seven of the upgraded aircraft have already been fielded and deployed in Afghanistan, with two per month being upgraded until all the deployed aircraft are retrofitted. Also coming this spring, Hewson said, is a tactical video data link to improve the targeting process.