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DUBAI: Bell targets Middle East sales of AH-1Z

Bell Helicopter is confident that the Middle East can deliver a sales boost across its military product line, with a number of campaigns currently active.

Although its static park presence at Dubai is limited to a US Marine Corps V-22 Osprey tiltrotor – produced in partnership with Boeing – the Texas airframer is also pushing its AH-1Z Viper attack helicopter.

Doug Wolfe, Middle East regional director for military business development at Bell Helicopter, says the AH-1Z is the "most capable, most modern attack helicopter flying today" and is gaining "significant interest" across the Middle East.

Already in operation with the USMC – heavy operational usage explains its absence from the static park – Bell is hopeful that the Middle East can generate additional sales for the Viper. So far, Pakistan is the sole export customer for the type.

Wolfe cites the in-built levels of marinisation – "it’s built to live on a ship", he says – as a key selling point for the region, where that protection "also works very well in desert environments".

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While Wolfe declines to name potential buyers, Bahrain is one obvious sales prospect, with Manama's existing fleet of elderly AH-1s – the longest serving example is nearly 40 years old – in need of replacement.

The United Arab Emirates could be another possibility, but may prove a tougher nut to crack: its air force fields a 30-strong fleet of D-model Being AH-64s and Bell would probably find it difficult to wrest the country away from its rival airframer.

Wolfe plays down the slow export sales of the AH-1Z, and the related UH-1Y Venom utility helicopter, noting that most deliveries to date have been required by the USMC to support its service entry.

Pakistan has ordered 12 examples via the USA's Foreign Military Sales mechanism. Three have so far been built and delivered to the US Navy for modification, prior to handover to the customer before year-end; nine more will be assembled by the end of 2018, says Wolfe.

He is also upbeat on the sales prospects for the V-22 in the Middle East, where Bell has seen "some interest" in the tiltrotor.

Previously the most likely customer in the region appeared to be Israel, which indicted a desire to acquire the Osprey for special forces missions. However, interest now appears to have cooled.

Nonetheless, Wolfe says Bell remains in dialogue with Tel Aviv should that ambition be rekindled.