Emerging markets look to round out rotary-wing Close Air Support options
The Close Air Support of attack helicopters has made the most significant impact in Afghanistan, ensuring troops on the ground are not left vulnerable to drawn-out and clouded hostile engagements. That experience continues to press militaries worldwide to invest in attack helicopter capabilities, seeing counterinsurgency (COIN) warfare as the common and enduring threat, whether on the frontline or on the outskirts of unstable nations where guerrilla organisations seek to create HAVOC.
see also: The Future of Rotary Wings
In addition to standard attack helicopters, the likes of armed utility and trainer airframes have also seen action in the market and in theatre, with some nations seeking a less expensive interim option.
According to estimates, the 2013 market for light attack helicopters is valued at $24.3 billion and will be likely to grow as the role of lower-cost rotary wing assets and unmanned rotary wing platforms increase their roles in missions.
Andrew Cairns, EMEA Executive Director of Sales at MD Helicopters explained that much of the allure is down to an upswing in civil unrest and border tensions.
“One of the ways to rapidly counter those threats is with air power, and a small counterinsurgency aircraft is an ideal and affordable way for countries to meet those defence requirements,” said Cairns.
This year, Turkey heralded an end to the long-running struggle to introduce a new attack helicopter into its ranks, settling on the AgustaWestland A129 as the basis for an indigenous variant (T129). At a programme cost of $3.2 billion, a total of 60 units are now on order – nine of which are temporarily the “combat support” variant (T129A) until a full upgrade is undertaken – in the hopes to finally meet an urgent operational requirement.
Negotiations for the aircraft had begun in 2007 but project delays have seen the service date pushed back to this year.
In Indonesia, rotary-wing aircraft are seen as an important element to increasing the reach and range of the armed forces, with border security being assisted by ongoing acquisitions of military helicopters in recent months, including a new Bell-412EP utility helicopter.However, armed platforms are becoming just as in demand as Indonesian Pumas have come under fire this year from suspected mercenaries of the Free Papua Movement, the anti-government militant group. One crew suffered an attack when attempting to retrieve soldiers killed in previous skirmishes. As such, the Indonesian National Armed Forces are in talks with the U.S. to acquire an AH-64 D Apache Longbow, but are struggling to meet the cost of $40 million. “The U.S. government has expressed its readiness to provide the chopper, but we still need to discuss the price, which is quite high,” admitted Defense Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro, who also stated that one helicopter to counter the threat was simply not enough.
The Philippines Department of National Defense (DND) has cleared the way for its Air Force to acquire 8 new attack helicopters with full night operation capability at a budget of P3.4 billion. Eurocopter and AgustaWestland have already expressed an interest in bidding, in what is likely to be a pitch of the Tiger, and either the A129 or Apache from the latter.
Close air support is a proven capability in all platforms, but the DND will focus more so on affordability, sustainability and the rapidity with which the chosen company can deliver.
Amid efforts to flesh out artillery and infantry capabilities, India has announced that it intends to establish a Mountain Strike Corps along the China border over the next six years to deter Chinese “adventurism” into the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
As part of this effort, the Corps will have an aviation wing, with rumors that the support element could well be taken on by Apaches.
The Indian Air Force is already in the final stages of acquiring 22 heavy-duty Apache helicopters, armed with Hellfire and Stinger missiles, in a deal agreed toward the end of 2012. The gunship contract is worth $1.4 billion.
India’s Army, meanwhile, is set to receive an indigenous attack helicopter in the form of the ‘Rudra’ (armed HAL Dhruv).
Russia is moving ahead with its delivery of 10 Mi-28NE attack helicopters to Iraq as part of its agreed $4.3 billion equipment deal.
As the first foreign export of the Ni-28NE, the controversial agreement will eventually see a total of 30 of the helicopters delivered alongside 42 Pantsyr S1 anti-aircraft artillery and missile systems.
The Netherlands is throwing $7.7 million to Boeing for Block II upgrades on its Apache fleet, which proved successful in protecting coalition forces during the Afghanistan campaign. The modifications will include non-line-of-sight communications, blue force tracking systems and Level 2 manned-unmanned teaming, with future plans to see the aircraft navalised for maritime operations.
A trial aircraft will be evaluated first before the 20 other Apaches are outfitted between 2014 – 2016.
[Major Peter Arts, a RNLAF instructor at the Air Warfare Centre will be speaking at Close Air Support 2013 to recount direct lessons from his CAS operations in Afghanistan.]
Brazil has settled on the Russian Mi-35M over the A129 to be its future attack helicopter designated “AH-2 Sabre”, to be tasked with combating transnational narco-terrorists and drug traffickers. Twelve of the aircraft are readying for delivery in the third quarter of 2013. In addition to their offensive role, the Mi-35 can also carry a small number of troops, leading other nations, including Venezuela, as seeing high value in stocking the aircraft.
Although the UK has blocked military hardware exports to Egypt, Egyptian forces continue to combat militants in the Sinai Peninsula, with reports of attack helicopters drifting over the Gaza Strip for the first time since 1967.
Israelis understood to have granted Egypt permission for additional troops and military assets, including an Apache, to be deployed in the area, with the intention of confronting Hamas insurgents.
It is likely that Egypt will seek to further its military arsenal during a time of civil division, most of which will require support for land forces and authorities operating within troubled urban areas.
Source www.defenceiq.com Contributor: Richard de Silva