Aerial Warfare

Royal Bahraini Air Force Inducts Bell AH-1Z Viper Attack Helicopters

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Royal Bahraini Air Force Inducts Bell AH-1Z Viper Attack Helicopters

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Royal Bahraini Air Force Inducts Bell AH-1Z Viper Attack Helicopters
Royal Bahraini Air Force Inducts Bell AH-1Z Viper Attack Helicopters

Royal Bahraini Air Force (RBAF) new Bell AH-1Z Viper attack helicopters were formally inducted into service during a ceremony attended by King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa on 5 February, the 56th anniversary of the Bahrain Defence Force. RBAF referred to the new type of attack helicopter as the Al-Kobra Z rather than the Viper, the name used by the US Marine Corps. The new attack helicopters were acquired under Project Bahrain Shield and had now reached the peak of combat readiness. The Royal Bahraini Air Force now has one of the largest AH-1 Cobra attack helicopter fleets in the world. Comprising 17 upgraded AH-1FB Cobras and 12 AH-1Z Vipers, known locally as ‘Zulus’, that’s an undeniably large number of gunships for such a small island.

On 27 April 2018, the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency announced it had received U.S. State Department approval and notified Congress of a possible sale to Bahrain of 12 AH-1Z attack helicopters, 26 T-700 GE 401C engines, 14 AGM-114 Hellfire Missiles, and 56 Advance Precision Kill Weapon System II (APKWS-II) WGU-59Bs for an estimated cost of $ 911.4 million. In November 2018, Bahrain confirmed the order for 12 AH-1Zs, and the first six were delivered in mid-2022. Production of AH-1Zs for Bahrain were completed in December 2022 and final deliveries made in 2023. The completion of the Bahrain AH-1Z program of record comes on the heels of Bell completing the U.S. Marine Corps program of record, signifying two major H-1 production milestones in one year.

 Royal Bahraini Air Force Bell AH-1Z Viper attack helicopters at Bell Military Aircraft Assembly Center in Amarillo.
Royal Bahraini Air Force Bell AH-1Z Viper attack helicopters at Bell Military Aircraft Assembly Center in Amarillo. (Photo by Bell)

The Bell AH-1Z Viper is a twin-engine attack helicopter, based on the AH-1W SuperCobra, designed and produced by the American aerospace manufacturer Bell Helicopter. It is one of the latest members of the prolific Bell Huey family. It is often called “Zulu Cobra”, based on the military phonetic alphabet pronunciation of its variant letter. The Bell AH-1Z Viper is essentially a modernisation of the service’s existing AH-1Ws, and was originally intended to be a rebuild program before subsequent orders were made for new-build helicopters instead. On 30 September 2010, the USMC declared that the AH-1Z had attained combat readiness; it fully replaced the preceding AH-1W Super Cobra during October 2020. The first export customer was the Royal Bahraini Air Force.

The Bell AH-1Z Viper is an attack helicopter derived from the earlier Bell AH-1 SuperCobra. The AH-1Z is equipped with a pair of redesigned stub wings, these being substantially longer than those of the preceding SuperCobra. Each one has an additional wingtip station for a missile such as the AIM-9 Sidewinder. Each stub wing has two other stations for 2.75-inch (70 mm) Hydra 70 rocket pods, or AGM-114 Hellfire quad missile launchers. The AN/APG-78 Longbow fire control radar can also be mounted on a wingtip station. Underneath the nose of the AH-1Z is an A/A49E-7 turret fitted with a 20 mm (0.787 in) M197 three-barreled rotary cannon; this weapon has a higher muzzle velocity and flatter trajectory than predecessors; it is also compatible with M50-series air-to-air rounds.

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