To fulfil Poland’s attack helicopter requirement, on 21 April, the government said that it would be choosing between Bell AH-1Z Viper and AH-64E Apache.
The Polish Ministry of National Defence (MND) has shortlisted the above two helicopters to meet the need of the Kruk (Raven) requirement for replacing the army’s existing Mil Mi-24′ Hind’ helicopters.
A Renewed Inventory
Poland’s recent emphasis has been on acquiring the Leonardo AW101 Merlin anti-submarine warfare helicopters to replace its Mil Mi-14′ Haze’ and Sikorsky S-70i Black Hawk as a new special forces type to replace its ageing Mil Mi-8/17′ Hip’ platforms. This is being done since the country is in the middle of a helicopter recapitalisation effort to replace its Warsaw Pact-era inventory. With the recent announcement by Poland’s Defence Minister, the emphasis shifts to replacing the Mil Mi-24s.
The Polish MoD intends to purchase 32 attack helicopters as a part of the Kruk program while these new combat vehicles will replace the ones currently in service. The tender witnessed four bidders, including Boeing AH-64E Apache, Airbus Helicopters Tiger, Turkish Aerospace T129 ATAK and Bell AH-1Z Viper.
The AH-64 Apache
The Boeing AH-64 Apache twin-turboshaft attack helicopter is equipped with a tandem cockpit for a crew of two and a tail wheel-type landing gear arrangement. The helicopter features a nose-mounted sensor suite for target acquisition and night vision systems and has significant systems redundancy to improve combat survivability.
Four hardpoints are mounted on stub-wing pylons for carrying armament, while the Longbows have one station on each wingtip which holds an AIM-92 Stinger twin missile pack. The helicopter is also armed with a 30mm M230 chain gun carried between the main landing gear under the aircraft’s forward fuselage.
The helicopter can carry AGM-114 Hellfire variants, AGM-65 Maverick, Air-to-Air Stinger (ATAS), and spike missiles while also carrying Hydra 70, CRV7 and APKWS air-to-ground rockets.
Reports claim that the AH-64E can control an unmanned aerial vehicle from the cockpit, and it improves on the earlier Apache models as it features a new and improved drivetrain and a composite rotor system that provides the helicopter with a 25 kt-higher top speed as compared to the AH-64D while it also has improved open-architecture avionics.
More than 500 helicopters have been delivered to the US Army and international customers, including Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, the Netherlands, India, South Korea, Indonesia, Qatar, Morocco and the UK. In 2020, it was cleared for sale to the Philippines.
The Bell AH-1Z Viper
Bell AH-1Z Viper twin-engine attack helicopter is based on AH-1W SuperCobra and features a bearingless, four-blade, composite main rotor system, a new target sighting system and uprated transmission. The helicopter stands as one of the latest members of the Bell Huey Family while it is also called the “Zulu Cobra”.
The AH-1Z Viper’s two redesigned wing stubs are longer, and each adds a wingtip station for a missile such as the AIM-9 Sidewinder. On the other hand, Each wing has two other stations for AGM-114 Hellfire quad missile launchers or Hydra 70 rocket pods. Apart from this, the helicopter has six pylon stations on stub wings with a capacity of 5,764 lb and can also carry APKWS II (guided) rockets or LAU-61D/A (19 shot) launchers. It is also equipped with an M197 three-barreled rotary cannon in the A/A49E-7 turret.
The integrated avionics system includes an automatic flight control system and two mission computers, while each crew station has one 4.2×4.2-inch dual function LCD and two 8×6-inch multifunction liquid crystal displays.
AH-1Z Viper and AH-64E Apache
Joe Difrancesco, a former AH-64 Apache Pilot in the US Army, suggests on Quora that the Apache serves as the best option from a purpose-built design standpoint. He says that considering the foundation of the AH-64, it allows the buggy systems of the helicopter to be thoroughly troubleshot, and the bugs run out over several decades. He further adds that having an ‘internal aircraft network bus’ right from the beginning helps the communications protocols, which are well known and easy to design new avionics.
Another point which gives an advantage to the AH-64 over the AH-1s is the wheels. According to him, Skid aircraft have to hover around airports, but wheeled aircraft can simply taxi. In crowded airfields, wheeled helicopters play much nicer, especially with lightweight UAS aircraft with respect to rotor wash.
However, Joe explains that the AH-1 wins the race from a logistics standpoint as it has over 84% parts commonality with the UH-1. Therefore, the spare parts can be split between the two aircraft and contribute to reducing the logistics effort for maintaining a particular level of readiness.