The large number of retired US Army Bell AH-1F Cobra and UH-1H helicopters is interesting a number of nations requiring new capabilities, as well as existing operators of the machines wanting to bolster their fleets. Meanwhile, the US Department of Defense is reviewing its support structure for the two types, which are due to disappear from the army's inventory.

The US Army, Army Reserve and National Guard have retired almost 400 AH-1Fs since unveiling their aviation modernisation plan in March 2000.

Most are parked at Ft Drum, New York, awaiting disposal. The army is also phasing out more than 700 UH-1Hs, with the last retirement scheduled by 2004.

Countries interested in the single-engined AH-1s include Argentina and Bahrain, which have submitted letters of request for 12 and 17 machines respectively.

Argentina was earmarked for machines last year, but was forced to delay the $4 million deal because of its financial crisis. Bahrain plans to refurbish 14 Cobras and use the rest as spares to support its existing 12 AH-1s.

Another Cobra operator, Israel, was allocated 15 of the helicopters stored at Fort Drum last year and is understood to be seeking a similar number this year. According to US officials, Portugal and South Korea are also interested in acquiring machines, while Chile is seeking information on acquiring new or secondhand attack helicopters.

Thailand, however, has rejected a US offer of six AH-1s and 30 UH-1Hs. OtherUH-1H offers include one machine for Brazil, six for Chile, six for Honduras, 18 for Tunisia and six for Uruguay. US offers of used helicopters have not always been a success - Mexico returned 72 UH-1Hs in 1999 because of airworthiness issues. Other surplus machines were recently delivered to Georgia.

With the retirement of the US Army's last UH-1H, support could become more of an issue for foreign operators. As a result, the DoD is developing a new "fair share sustainment" programme to replace the army's support centre by September next year.


Source: Flight International