Sunday, January 1, 2012
Bell Aims Armed 407 Variant at Foreign Militaries
|The Bell 407AH on display during the Dubai Airshow in November. Photo by Douglas Nelms
Bell Helicopter Textron displayed its militarized 407AH at the Dubai Airshow, promoting it and the IA407 being developed for the Iraqi Armed Forces. Both aircraft use the civilian-certified Bell 407 modified to carry an array of aerial weapons. However, the major difference between them is that the IA407 is strictly an Army program, with Bell selling the civil 407 to the U.S. Army, which will militarize it for sale to Iraqi forces through the Department of Defense’s foreign military sales (FMS) program.
Bell has commitments for 27 IA407s for the U.S. Army for resell to the Iraqi forces. Of these, three are to be strictly trainers without weapons, which the Army has now delivered to the Iraqis. The rest will be weaponized. The U.S. Army is still in the process of qualifying these aircraft.
“The 407AH starts with a certified 407, just as with the IA407,” said Steve Schultz, director of Middle East/Africa for Bell. “But in this case, we’ve done the design, the development, the platform we certified. We believe that we’ve developed an aircraft that is much more flexible, much more capable because of the broad range of missions that can be done with it. We call it a multi-mission aircraft.”
Schultz noted that some of the technology for the militarized 407 comes from the OH-58 program. “For example, using the universal weapons pylon—the arms that hold the weapons—we are able to install and attach a multitude of weapons and systems without disturbing the cabin, so that you retain your seating. For a law enforcement role, it’s absolutely perfect—border patrol, light insertions or extractions, that sort of thing.”
Bell also went with weapons “that are light, that are modular, that are simple,” he continued. These include the Dillon Aero M134D 7.62mm mini-gun, the three-barreled GAU-19 50BMG mini-gun, and the 2.75-inch rocket. It also has the capability to manually dispense chaff and flares. The weapons management system uses a very simple targeting sight system, with the idea being “to keep it affordable,” Schultz said. “We did that with law enforcement customers in mind. We’ve seen a lot of interest from foreign militaries that don’t have the big budgets.” The helicopter is aimed at international military and paramilitary forces, he said.
Bell feels that it can sell a significant number of the 407AHs, with “a number of interested parties looking for the light reconnaissance helicopter,” Schultz said. The feeling is that the 407AHs would be sold in large programs, rather than just in twos or threes. “The number that would be needed for an operational squadron,” Schultz pointed out. Flight specifications for the aircraft are currently being developed, although Bell has not found any degradation in weight or speed by putting weapons on the aircraft. “The beauty of the universal weapons pylons is that they have been fully tested and qualified on the OH-58. The max gross weight of the aircraft is 5,250 lbs. That hasn’t changed, and it doesn’t matter if it is a person sitting in the cabin or a mini-gun hanging from a pylon. The only difference would be the loss of streamlining, and that is negligible.”
The FLIR electro-optical/infrared sensor and target designation system is currently certified for the aircraft, although Bell is evaluating a number of other systems, such as L-3 Wescam. “The system is not integrated, which means that if the customer wants a different target acquisition sensor, we can easily install it.”
The 407AH uses the Garmin G500H with synthetic vision with a Garmin com/nav suite in its cockpit. Bell is also offering the 407GX, which uses the Garmin G1000H. Schultz noted that customers can also opt for the use of BAE Systems advanced precision kill weapon system (APKWS), which allows the DASALS semi-active laser seeker to be installed in the 2.75-inch rockets, converting them from unguided rockets to guided rockets, capable of locking on to a lasered target and taking it out.