Bell is eyeing a number of attack helicopter requirements in the Asia-Pacific as it looks to win further export deals for its AH-1Z Viper.
Although the US Marine Corps remains the prime customer for the rotorcraft - with deliveries from an order for 189 examples running until 2022 - both Bahrain and Pakistan are acquiring the Viper via the US Foreign Military Sales process.
The US manufacturer is hopeful that it can build on that export success in the region, with emerging requirements from Japan and Thailand - both operators of legacy Bell models - presenting the most obvious path to future sales.
Bangkok intends to replace its fleet of eight AH-1F Cobras, while Tokyo will phase out the 71-strong inventory of AH-1S helicopters - licence built by the former Fuji Heavy Industries, now Subaru - under its recently launched AH-X contest.
Any deal with Japan is likely to include a significant industrial component; its previous UH-X competition for 150 utility helicopters was won by a Bell/Subaru team with a modified version of the 412EPI which will be locally manufactured.
John Woodbery, director of global business development Asia-Pacific at Bell, also believes the AH-1Z stands a strong chance in Australia as Canberra considers options to replace its fleet of 22 Airbus Helicopters Tigers in the mid-2020s. Bell is likely to face competition from both the incumbent manufacturer and Boeing with the AH-64E Apache.
Woodbery stresses that the in-built marinisation of the AH-1Z – required for the expeditionary operations of the US Marine Corps – should be a key consideration for the Australian army, with its aircraft to operate from amphibious assault ships such as HMAS Canberra and HMAS Adelaide.
Although many navies in the region are looking to add helicopters to their warships, Woodbery points to a steep learning curve for those lacking experience.
“Anyone can land a helicopter on a ship,” he says, but maintaining that embarked capability is another issue. He describes a constant fight against corrosion, particularly if the aircraft are not optimised for flying in littoral conditions and require additional freshwater washes.
Woodbery notes that the AH-1Z is integrated with affordable precision weapon systems, such as BAE Systems' Advanced Precision Kill Weapons System guided rockets; the Viper can carry 28 of the munitions.