How the Bell AH-1Z Viper helicopter has evolved

In creating the AH-1Z Viper platform, Bell has been pivotal for advancing military aviation technology worldwide.

The AH-1Z Viper is the newest attack helicopter on the market. Image: Bell

Today, the AH-1Z Viper is the newest attack helicopter on the market, designed to provide an overwhelming competitive advantage to its users across a broad range of missions. More than an evolutionary upgrade, the Viper is a re-designed dedicated attack helicopter for modern threats.

Bell designed the Viper to counter both air-to-air and air-to-ground targets while simultaneously operating in the world's most austere environments. The AH-1Z has demonstrated its ability to counter unmanned aerial systems, a vital capability in today’s operating environments.

The Viper is the only attack helicopter required to operate from naval vessels and small land-based forward-operating units regularly. Marinisation of the Viper during the manufacturing process protects the aircraft from saltwater's corrosive effects and enables it to withstand the harsh environmental impact of deployments in all-weather environments.

"With the AH-1Z Viper, Bell has created an aircraft that not only meets but exceeds all the key requirements for modern military helicopters," said Mike Deslatte, Bell H-1 senior vice president and programme director. "No other aircraft can match the performance, capability, connectivity, and survivability of the AH-1Z."

Almost as important as the AH-1Z's flight characteristics, the Viper maintains a minimal logistics footprint. Ease of maintenance for the troops operating it in the field while preserving effective operations away from main points of support and logistics create one of the most deployable attack helicopter in the world. Very few militaries around the globe have constant access to large operating bases with dozens of support personnel and manufacturer contractors available to support their aircraft, so the design of the AH-1Z becomes even more important in day-to-day operations.

It provides rotary-wing Close Air Support, Anti-Armor, Anti-Air, Armed Escort, Armed/Visual Reconnaissance, and fire support coordination capabilities under day/night and adverse weather conditions, complementing its durability and reliability. The aircraft can operate multiple missions, including:

  • Attack: The AH-1Z Viper provides air-to-ground fire support with a wide array of precision missiles and rockets capable of defeating armoured formations, and provides the pilots multiple options to engage the enemy to achieve the desired effects on target. It is also the only attack helicopter in the world with fully integrated air-to-air AIM-9M sidewinder missile capability to counter both rotary and fixed-wing adversaries. The weapon systems are contained in the glass cockpit and selectable without the pilot removing their hands from the controls – allowing for a seamless shift in attack missions based on battlefield conditions.
  • Aerial Reconnaissance: With sensor-powered sight, the AH-1Z Viper features high-tech sensors that enable pilots to identify, track, and assign targets, allowing them to select their attack location and target for maximum effects. The multi-sensor Target Sight System (TSS) is unmatched in image processing and target identification. Precision weapons benefit from being more effective with a sensor with advanced abilities to detect and identify long-range targets. On-board systems also provide data to allow for more precise firing of unguided weapons, increasing the overall precision kill capability of the AH-1Z. 
  • Escort: The AH-1Z Viper is armed for aerial dominance of the battlespace and provides valuable air support for troops on the ground, reacting to threats ahead. The AH-1Z Viper maintains the fully-integrated and up-to-date survivability equipment that protects against modern weapons. The AH-1Z design supports the ground forces and engages the enemy as far from friendly forces as possible.

As more militaries modernise to become fifth-generation fully networked forces, they must do so while balancing cost to own and operate while maximising capability. The AH-1Z systems, weapons, speed, and range will seamlessly enable forces to employ even more strategic resources from expeditionary environments.