AH-6 is a mobile arsenal, not inferior to other armed helicopters in the world
Recently, in September 2019, the US State Department approved plans to sell the AH-6i light-attack reconnaissance helicopter to Thailand. The $ 400 million deal is made under the Foreign Military Sales program, including 8 AH-6i helicopters and accompanying weapons packages, along with training, accessories and avionic equipments.
The AH-6i helicopter is the newest variant of the AH-6 helicopter family, targeting the export market. Although in service since 1980, AH-6 Little Bird is still a favorite weapon of the US Army.
Since the 1960s, the demands of modern warfare have led the US Army to need a new light helicopter suitable for reconnaissance, transport and strike missions. It must be highly maneuverable and compact in design than traditional helicopters. And Hughes OH-6 Cayuse was the answer to the US Army at that time. However, by 1980, the US Army decided to improve this helicopter line with two other variants: MH-6 for reconnaissance, transport and AH-6 for fire support.
The AH-6 development contract was awarded to Boeing Rotorcraft Systems. Before that, the task of supporting the ground forces was carried out by the OH-6A.
Of course, MH-6 or AH-6 do not serve in regular US Army combat units, but rather to special American combat units. It is commonly known as “Little Bird” or “Little Bird Gun”. This helicopter also has a number of variants, more recent models are based on the MD-530 civilian helicopter.
The AH-6 helicopter uses a unique “egg-shaped” design, similar to OH-6A and MH-6. The Little Bird’s front features a bubble-type framed cockpit. The two crew members have great views, easily covering the panoramic view of the battlefield.
The rear is housing for the powerplant. Like all helicopters, the heart of the AH-6 is the single T63-A-5A or T63-A-700 turboshaft engine system that provides 425 shaft horsepower. The helicopter can reach a maximum speed of 282 km/h (175 mph) even at full load. The AH-6 has an effective range of up to 430km (232 nmi), nearly the same as an AH-1 Cobra.
The 5-blade main rotor sits atop the fuselage on a short mast while the 4-blade tail rotor is located to the portside of the helicopter.
The tail is characterized by an “T” -type assembly, consisting of a vertical tail fin and a horizontal plane at the top, which is attached to two small vertical planes.
In order to increase maneuverability and the number of weapons to carry, AH-6 is minimalist in almost every detail. The Little Bird weighs only 722 kg (1,591 lb) while the maximum takeoff weight is more than 1.6 tons (3,550 lb).
The AH-6 is relatively lack of armor, but in return it possesses speed, quiet operation, and is often painted black to increase the level of stealth. This helicopter is especially dangerous at low altitude, which is difficult to detect by enemy radar systems. It can easily perform difficult, fast, and dangerous maneuvers, so it is very suitable for urban warfare or mountainous terrain, at any altitude.
One more thing, AH-6 is a mobile arsenal, not inferior to other armed helicopters in the world. The AH-6 can carry a wide variety of weapons on its two mounting pylons.
The main weapon of the Little Bird is the M230 30 mm chainguns, M134 7.62mm miniguns or three-barreled 12.7 mm GAU-19 Gatling guns.
The rocket system on the AH-6 is also quite diverse with the Hydra 70 mm unguided rockets with both guided and unguided variants.
Meanwhile, the list of missiles includes the AGM-114 Hellfire anti-tank missiles, TOW anti-tank missiles, and AIM-92 Stinger short range air-to-air missiles. There are also Mk.19 40 mm automatic grenade launchers.
The massive arsenal has helped AH-6 become the only light attack helicopter of the US Special Forces from 1980 to the present. And when flying with AH-6, the crew must also take risks when it is not well protected as some other helicopters. Despite this, the AH-6 still has enough toughness, ensuring the crew the opportunity to survive if an accident occurs.
Since being commissioned in the early 1980s, Little Bird has been involved in many US military campaigns. It first fought in Grenada in 1983, and later in Nicaragua. A series of subsequent US campaigns, Little Bird were also involved, from Operation Prime Chance, Operation Just Cause, to operations in Afghanistan and then in Iraq. Everywhere, Little Bird has achieved certain success.
The most modern variant of the AH-6 is currently the AH-6x. The original goal was to build an unmanned armed helicopter, but then the AH-6X was redesigned with both manned and unmanned variants. However, the US Army has not yet put AH-6X into service and it only operates in Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
The AH-6X is considered a potential candidate for current US special forces units to replace some of the outdated AH-6 or even MH-6. However, the price of the AH-6X is not cheap when it comes to more than $ 2 million per unit, excluding the weapons system.
In general, in the near future, AH-6 helicopters will still play a certain role in the US Army, especially in special forces or marines, but it will also be improved in the direction of Full automation as a UAV model. This is entirely feasible and not too complicated as some other US helicopters currently.
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