In March Slovakia agreed to send its 13 MiG-29 fighters to Ukraine. Slovakia is now a NATO member, no longer uses MiG-29s, and has replaced them with F-16s. In gratitude the U.S. offered Slovakia twelve AH-1Z helicopter gunships and 500 Hellfire missiles costing about a billion dollars. The U.S. and NATO will cover most of this cost and all Slovakia, which has no helicopter gunships, will have to pay is about $300 million. The AH-1Z is a popular economy model gunship compared to the 11-ton AH-64.
The AH-1Z was created by remanufacturing older AH-1T/W attack helicopters into AH-1Z models. This produces a helicopter with a 10,000 hours (in the air) airframe, new engines, new electronics and an updated and much more effective gunship. There have been some problems with the fire control system, which is, when it works, similar to what the latest AH-64s have, that caused some delays. However, the marines were able to catch up, and the AH-1Z kept to its scheduled 2015 entry into service. The marines received the last of their 189 AH-1Zs by late 2022. This included 131 remanufactured AH-1Ws and 58 AH-1Zs manufactured new.
The seven ton AH-1W was an upgrade of the Vietnam era AH-1. The AH-1W was configured for naval use, and had two engines and protection against sea water corrosion. Most of these aircraft were originally manufactured in the 1970's, with some 44 AH-1W models built in the 1980's. The goal of the AH-1Z program was not only to deliver a much more capable aircraft, but also to have an 84 percent commonality of parts with the updated UH-1 transport helicopter that the marines also use, thus greatly reducing maintenance costs. Worldwide, there are a lot of UH-1s still in use because they are cheap to buy and operate while getting the job done. The AH-1 is basically a gunship version of the UH-1 and first modern helicopter gunship with the pilot sitting behind the weapons officer and both protected by some lightweight armor.
The AH-1Z model upgrade uses a new 4 bladed composite rotor system, transmission, strengthened structural components, and modern digital cockpit avionics. The 8 ton AH-1Z is armed with a three barrel 20mm Gatling gun (and 750 rounds) and eight Hellfire missiles. It can also carry two Sidewinder air-to-air missiles. The AH-1Z can operate around the clock, in all kinds of weather. Sorties last about two hours each and cruising speed is 248 kilometers an hour.