Boeing officials revealed today that they expect to sign a contract with Jordan for 18 to 24 of its new AH-6 light attack choppers by the end of the year while another 36 of the birds are set to go to Saudi Arabia as apart of the $60 billion arms deal recently penned with the United States.
Jordan has been testing the new chopper for nearly a year now, both in the desert Kingdom and in the Southwestern U.S., and in May it signed a letter of intent to buy the aircraft,Mike Burke, Boeing's chief of business development for Army rotorcraft said today at the Association of the United States Army's annual conference in Washington. The company plans to have its Mesa, Ariz., production line ready to produce the choppers for Jordan soon after the new year with first deliveries expected about 24 months later, according to Burke.
The U.S. defense giant is pitching the revamped MH-6 Little Bird -- which is itself based on the 1960s-vintage OH-6 Cayuse -- to nations around the world who currently fly older versions of the AH-6, AH-1 Cobras and the like. Included in this list is Pakistan, which operates a fleet of about 20 TOW missile-equipped Cobras that it bought in the early 1980s.
Burke went on to say the new chopper, which he describes as a mini-AH-64 Apache, is ideal for the high-altitude and high temprature environments the Pakistani military finds itself fighting Al Qaeda and Taliban militants in.
The new attack helo is perfect for that mission because it can "get close to and see and take out the enemy" using everything from laser-guided 70 mm rockets and Hellfire missiles to several miniguns, Burke said. He would not confirm whether the AH-6 will be included in an upcoming batch of military aid the U.S. may deliver to Pakistan soon. That deal includes a provision for attack helicopters.
Overall, Burke and fellow Boeing executives see a market of roughly 1,500 aging attack helos around the world that will need replacement in the coming decades. Interest is flowing from three European NATO members as well as countries throughout the Middle East, Southeast Asia and Latin America, according to Burke.
While it is focused on the international market for now, Boeing can't resist pitching the helicopter as an eventual replacement for the U.S. Army's ancient OH-58 Kiowa Warrior scout helos. Burke described the AH-6 as providing "better capability at a lower cost and it's quicker to field" than an a OH-58 modified to meet the requirements for a future armed scout would be.
The Army is already modifying its OH-58s, giving them improved sensors, cockpit displays and countermeasures, among other tweaks.
At the same time, the service is wrapping up its Analysis of Alternatives for its next generation armed aerial scout helicopter. Burke says the AH-6, with it's ability to perform at more the 6,000 feet and in 95 degree temperatures, fly for three hours as well as integrate UAV controls, is already well qualified to do.