Warplanes: A Reliable Veteran Gets Around


July 26, 2017: Jordan has donated at least six AH-1F helicopter gunships to Kenya. American military aid will apparently pay for some or all of the maintenance support provided by the manufacturer. Kenya already operates the similar UH-1 transport helicopter and many countries with small defense budgets prefer the older UH-1 and AH-1 helicopters because they are much cheaper to operate than more recent models and are relatively inexpensive to keep operational by replacing worn out engines and other components.

Most current AH-1s are based on the American AH-1F, a 4.5 ton helicopter equipped with a three barrel 20mm automatic cannon and 750 rounds of ammo. Also carried are four TOW, or eight Hellfire missiles. The AH-1F can also carry unguided 70mm rockets or Sidewinder air-to-air missiles. The AH-1F is also equipped for night operations, has a crew of two and stays in the air for up to four hours per sortie. Max speed is about 270 kilometers an hour, and cruising speed is about two-thirds that. The aircraft also carries countermeasures for anti-aircraft missiles. Jordan has operated AH-1s since the 1990s and is now replacing some of them with AH-6I gunships. Jordan began receiving 31 AH-1s from the United States in the late 1990s.

The AH-1 was developed in the 1960s and entered service with U.S. troops in Vietnam during 1967. Many countries still use it. But time and change are inevitable. In 2014 Israel revealed that it was replacing all of its 33 elderly AH-1 helicopter gunships with armed UAVs. Israel is a major developer and manufacturer of UAVs and its armed UAVs were increasingly being sent to carry out on surveillance missions long handled by the AH-1s. Moreover, the UAVs could stay in the air longer (over 12 hours compared to about 90 minutes for the AH-1s) and were cheaper to operate and did not expose Israeli pilots to danger. So Israel decided to stop using the AH-1s (except for emergencies) and see if UAVs could effectively replace the choppers. The UAVs could and did. That worked and all the AH-1s were retired in 2015. As is Israeli custom most were put in storage, just in case.

In 2015 Israel donated 16 of its recently retired AH-1 “Cobra” helicopter gunships to its neighbor Jordan. This all began in late 2014, with help from the United States to handle upgrades and maintenance. While the helicopters are provided free Jordan will assume operational and maintenance costs, which will not be a great burden because Jordan already operates twenty or so older AH-1Fs. Some of the Israeli AH-1s were used for spare parts and rest will be used to increase border security. Islamic terrorists are increasingly threatening Jordan and helicopter gunships are frequently used to deal illegal border crossers. Only about a dozen of the Jordan’s AH-1s are operational because of age and lack of spare parts. The United States is helping out with the maintenance issues and Israel has some parts left over from the 17 AH-1s earlier retired.




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