Eyes on Targets
The Marine Corps’ new AH-1Z helicopter completes its initial deployment
By RICHARD R. BURGESS, Managing Editor
AH-1Z and UH-1Y program manager. “Because we’re still delivering
them at fairly a low rate — not quite
one a month — we just can’t build
up a squadron with 15 of them to
get to where they need to be to train
and then pack up and deploy. So,
we’re still filling the Cobra role in
Afghanistan with AH-1Ws.
“Right now, the only active
HMLA that has the Zulu is 267,
The AH-1Z “Zulu” and UH-1Y “Yankee,” which is
replacing the UH-1N “November” in HMLA squadrons, are products of the H- 1 Upgrade Program, which
is an extensive effort to sustain and improve an armed
helicopter capability for the Marine Corps. Both aircraft types are in full-rate production.
The Marine Corps plans to procure a total of 189 AH-
1Zs and 160 UH-1Ys, of which 25 and 63, respectively,
had been delivered by July. The AH-1Z total includes 37
rebuilt from AH-1Ws and 152 new-production aircraft.
“We pushed the Yankee out ahead of the Zulu because
we were really having some challenges with the old UH-
1Ns, so we wanted to replace those things as quickly as
possible,” Hewson said. “That’s why the Zulus seem like
they’re a step behind. That was a conscious decision.
“The Yankee is [coming off the production line]
roughly one-and-a-half per month,” he said. “The Zulu
is a little slower, not quite one per month coming off of
the production line.”
The current production contract with Bell Helicopter
— for fiscal 2011 Lot 8 aircraft — is for 31 helicopters for
$550 million, said Hewson, who noted that the contract
For the first time, the AH-1Z and UH-1Y helicopters teamed up in
a Marine Expeditionary Unit.
■ Zulus and Yankees complement each other in tag teams.
■ The AH-1Z’s Target Sight System allows target identification
at long ranges.
■ The production rate precludes rapid widespread deployment
of the AH-1Z.
The Marine Corps has rated the initial opera- tional deployment of its new helicopter gun- ship a success.
The 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU),
embarked with the USS Makin Island amphibious ready
group, returned to the West Coast in June after a seven-month deployment to the Indian Ocean and Western
Pacific Ocean. A detachment of four AH-1Zs from
Marine Helicopter Light Attack Squadron 367 (HMLA-
367, later assigned during deployment to HMLA-267)
had joined Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 268,
the air combat element of the MEU for the deployment.
The deployment also for the first time saw the AH-1Z
teamed with its UH-1Y Venom counterpart.
The AH-1Z Viper, or “Zulu,” built by Bell Helicopter
Textron, is slowly replacing the AH-1W Super Cobra version, but, according to current near-term plans, it is not
likely to see combat in Afghanistan. The rate of transition
of Marine HMLA squadrons to the new helicopter is such
that deployment of the AH-1Z to Afghanistan is unlikely
before President Barack Obama’s planned withdrawal of
U.S. combat forces from that country in 2014.
“The only way that would happen in the near term is
if an MEU goes ashore off the boat to go and do some
sort of reinforcing or supporting operations in there,”
said Marine Col. Harry Hewson, the Navy Department’s