Marine Corps Cobra Attack Helicopter

The AH-1W Cobra series attack helicopter has been in service with the United States Marine Corps since the 80's. The newest chapter in the Cobra-USMC story is the AH-1Z Super Cobra which is expected to enter operational service in 2007. The "Zulu" is essentially a technology upgrade to the Corps' existing fleet of 180 AH-1Ws. Once completed, the rebuild-and-upgrade program will add an additional 10,000 flight hours to the existing AH-1W airframes.

The two most significant upgrades to the AH-1 are also the two most obvious. Gone are the teetering, semi-ridged two-bladed rotors. Instead, the AH-1Z will have a four-bladed, hinge-less, bearing-less rotor system. Coupled to a pair of General Electric T700-GE-401 turbo shaft engines producing a total of 3,380 shaft horsepower, the four-bladed Zulu will have nearly double the Whiskey's payload as well as improved performance and endurance.

The second most obvious upgrade to the AH-1 is the nose mounted Target Sight System (TSS.) Built by Lockheed-Martin, the TSS incorporates an eye-safe laser rangefinder/target designator, an advanced third generation 3-5 micron-staring array Forward Looking Infra Red (FLIR) camera, and CCD TV. The TSS will allow the AH1-Z crew to automatically scan, acquire, designate and engage targets.

The AH-1 Cobra

As part of an overall plan to reduce crew-training needs as well as streamline crew efficiency the crew stations in the AH-1Z are all but identical, which not only facilitates maintenance, but also eliminates the need for crewmembers to undergo "front seat/ back seat" station training. The newly designed "glass" cockpits incorporate numerous multi function color data displays, a moving map digital navigation system and the Hands On Collective and Stick (HOCAS) system integration architecture, which allows the crew to access many of the helicopter's systems without having to take their eyes off of the target. In addition, the crew will be equipped with the Thales Avionics' TopOwl helmet-mounted display system. The TopOwl is a helmet-mounted sight that slaves the aircraft's TSS to the wearer's head movement (increasing situational awareness as well as improving target acquisition and engagement times.) The TopOwl is FLIR capable. It is equipped with a Gen IV passive night vision system and can switch between day-night optics instantly.

The Z model also incorporates a number of improved self-defense features. Topping the list is the new Lockheed Martin AN/APR-39(XE2) radar warning receiver, which can detect both continuous wave and Doppler type radar signals. An ATK AN/AAR-47 missile warning system provides missile launch warnings to the crew through the use of infrared detectors that detect the missile's hot exhaust plume. To alert the crew to laser designators or directed energy threats, the AH-1Z has a Goodrich AN/AVR-2A laser warning receiver. To defend themselves, the AH-1Z is equipped with both an active IR jamming system, the AN/ALQ-144A developed by BAE Systems, and an automated flare/chaff dispensing system, the BAE AN/ALE-39 chaff and infrared flare dispenser.

The increased payload and performance of the Zulu means that it's weapons load has been increased significantly. The Zulu can carry 16 anti-tank guided missiles (ATGM) consisting of either the 3.5km wire-guided Raytheon BGM-71 TOW missile or the 8km semi-active laser homing Lockheed Martin AGM-114 Hellfire. Longbow International (a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman) is developing the Cobra Radar System for the Zulu. Based on the mast-mounted millimeter wave radar used on the AH-64 Longbow Apache, the CRS will be a pod based, weapon station mounted radar that will enable the AH-1Z to fire the radar guided variant of the Hellfire. In addition, the Z is being certified for use of the AGM-65 Maverick missile, which will allow it to attack high value hard (armored) targets, such as bunkers or bridges. In addition to missiles, the AH-1Z will be capable of carrying numerous 7 and 19 shot 70mm Hydra rocket pods, as well as the larger 127mm Zuni rockets. To meet air to air threats, the AH-1Z can carry the AIM-9 sidewinder short range IR guided anti-air missile, and for air defense suppression the "Z" can also carry the AIM-9 based SIDARM anti-radiation homing missile, which locks onto threat radar transmitters and destroys them. Finally, the AH-1Z will continue to use the Cobra's 3 barreled, nose mounted, 20mm rotary cannon with 750 rounds of ammunition.

The AH-1Z reflects the Marine Corps' tradition for frugal effectiveness. Not blessed with the budget to develop expensive end-item systems such as the M1 Tank, the Apache helicopter, or the A/V-8 Harrier, the Marines have become very adept at working with what they have and making it better. The AH-1Z is a good example of this philosophy. The Cobra is a proven design, and while it may not have the speed or the armor protection of the Apache, it also does not have its price tag. This is not to say that the AH-1Z is a slouch by any means. With the ability to fire any ATGM in the US inventory, in addition to carrying both anti-air and anti-radiation missiles, the AH-1Z is fully capable of meeting all of the Marine Corps battlefield ground support needs for the foreseeable future.

Posted by admin on Monday 24 March 2008 - 23:06:27 | LAN_THEME_20

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