Bell Textron has completed the first of 12 AH-1Z Viper attack helicopters destined for the Royal Bahraini Air Force (RBAF), the manufacturer announced in October, following a private celebration of the milestone at Bell’s Amarillo, Texas, plant on September 30. Following its completion the Viper was handed over to Naval Air Systems Command, the contracting agency for the Foreign Military Sales acquisition. It will be prepared for shipment to Bahrain by the Defense Contract Management Agency, and is expected to arrive in the Gulf nation next year.
The Kingdom of Bahrain ordered the 12 Vipers in November 2018, the sale having been cleared by the U.S. State Department in April that year. With an estimated value of $911.4 million, the notification included an armament package, two spare General Electric T700-GE-401C engines, with training and logistics support. The armament includes AGM-114 Hellfire missiles and APKWS-II laser-guided rockets.
The RBAF has operated two-blade, single-engine versions of the AH-1 Cobra since 1994, having acquired a mix of AH-1E, AH-1F and AH-1P helicopters for service with the 8th and 9th Helicopter Squadrons at Riffa air base, which houses all of the Kingdom’s rotary-wing force. With a four-blade composite rotor, “glass” cockpit, and integrated Target Sight System, the twin-engine AH-1Z introduces a host of new capabilities and improvements, not only in terms of systems and weaponry, but also in performance.
“The Viper will provide significant benefits to the Bahrain Defence Force as they modernize their fleet of attack helicopters,” said Mike Deslatte, Bell H-1 vice president and program director. “Having a proven state-of-the-art platform will help contribute to the security of Bahrain while improving interoperability with U.S. forces.”
The AH-1Z has been in service with the U.S. Marine Corps since 2010, with a fleet of over 200 aircraft. The majority of them were remanufactured from AH-1Ws, topped up by new-build aircraft. Bell has bid the Viper for a number of international attack helicopter requirements, and in 2019 followed up its success in Bahrain with the sale of four to the Czech Republic as part of a package that includes eight UH-1Y Venom armed assault helicopters.
An interesting aside is that Bahrain will shortly have two aircraft in its inventory with the name Viper. As well as the AH-1Zs, the RBAF has 16 Lockheed Martin F-16Vs on order, an aircraft that the manufacturer now regularly refers to by its long-established nickname.