Marines Seeking Foreign Buyers To Extend H-1 Production Line Out To 2030s

Having nearly fielded its planned fleet of upgraded attack and utility helicopters, the Marine Corps is seeking foreign buyers to keep the Bell [TXT] H-1 production line open past 2022.

Production of the UH-1Y Huey ends in the current fiscal year while its cousin, the AH-1Z Cobra closes in fiscal 2022, according to Marine Col. David Walsh, the service’s H-1 program manager.

“As we look toward the end of the line, we’re looking at [foreign military sales] partners to pick up where the Marine Corps tapers off,” Walsh said April 10 at the Navy League’s annual Sea-Air-Space conference here. “That allows us to build partnerships, increase interoperability between the Marine Corps and our partner nations, but it also allows us to build a strong industrial base for not just the Marine Corps, but our partner nations.”

Of a 160-aircraft program of record, the Marine Corps has fielded 158 UH-1Ys and should finish out the program in 2018, Walsh said. About half of the 189 Z-model Cobras the Marine Corps planned to buy have been delivered.

Although production ends in 2022, the Marine Corps plans to fly both aircraft for at least another 30 years. At that point Future Vertical Lift or some other H-1 replacement should be coming online, he said. The Marine Corps and Bell are seeking FMS customers to take production out to that 2030s horizon.

Pakistan is the one country already under contract to purchase H-1s, though Walsh said, “We have had several other interests from around the world: Europe, Middle East, Asia.” Smaller militaries and services like the Marine Corps can benefit from the commonality of the UH-1Y and AH-1Z, he said.

“We’re pursuing those and I’ll leave it to the countries to express their interest or not, but there is quite a bit of interest,” he said.  “We’re pushing out Zs but there is still capacity there for foreign partners.”

The two aircraft are state-of-the art rotorcraft that resemble their Vietnam-era precursors only superficially. Aside from identical glass cockpits in both platforms, the UH-1Y has two engines where the UH-1W had only one and four rotor blades instead of just two. Both improvements provide significant improvements in speed, range and lift capacity.

“It is not the H-1 you’ve seen in the movies, from Vietnam,” Walsh said. “It is a completely new aircraft, built from scratch, new design. Similar shape to what you saw in the first-generation H-1s, but it is a completely new state-of-the-art technology.”

The two aircraft are 85 percent common, which dramatically reduces their combined logistics tail when deployed, Walsh said.

“It allows us to deploy with a much smaller footprint,” he said. “The spares pack-up, support equipment, training, is all similar if not identical between the two platforms. ... The Marine Corps doesn’t do it, but you can train on both platforms because the controls and displays are identical between the two aircraft. So you can have one pilot that can fly either aircraft supporting different types of missions.”

Pakistan ordered 12 UH-1Ys that are currently under production and testing. The U.S. government bought four of them on behalf of the Pakistan military and Is breaking them in before delivery to Pakistan in the 2022-2023 timeframe, Walsh said.

That program is proceeding despite an ongoing political scuffle between the Trump White House and Pakistan. It will continue “if politics allow,” Walsh said. “It is still proceeding from our perspective.”

The State Department in October approved a $575 million deal for 12 UH-1Ys to the Czech Republic that also includes 25 General Electric [GE] T-700 401C engines, 13 Honeywell [HON] GPS systems and 12 M240 machine guns.

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