Electronic Weapons: Militarized MD-530

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February 5, 2020: It is increasingly common to improve the performance of older aircraft with new or updated electronics. This is often used to turn unarmed aircraft and helicopters into very capable combat aircraft. It’s not just installing the electronics that enable pilots to launch a rocket or fire a machine-gun, but new fire control and systems that make the weapons easier to use and more effective. A recent example of this is a new combat electronics system, created by an Israeli firm, for the 1.5 ton, two-seat MD-530G light scout helicopter. Initially, the MD-530G could only be armed with a 7.62mm or 12.7mm machine-gun pod and one or two 70mm rocket pods (seven or 12 rockets each). The helicopter can carry two weapon pods, one under each stub wing. It is increasingly common for these small helicopters to be equipped with a laser designator and laser-guided missiles like Hellfire. Noting that many smaller helicopters carry and fire 70mm unguided rockets, it is an easy fix to enable those same launchers to also carry and fire laser-guided APKWS 70mm rockets. In effect, the rocket launcher can handle APKWS 70mm rockets as well as unguided ones. APKWS are basically 70mm laser-guided rockets that have a laser seeker and moveable fins for guidance added to turn it into mini-Hellfires. Most 70mm rockets are now APKWS rather than upgraded unguided rockets. These rockets weigh 13.6 kg (30 pounds) with a 2.7 kg (six pound) warhead and a range of about six kilometers.

The Israeli enhanced IWS (Integrated Weapons System) includes a WMS (Weapons Management System), HDTS (Helmet Display and Tracking System) and MMS (Mission Management System). All this new gear makes it easier for the pilot to use the missiles day or night while maneuvering the helicopter at low altitude. The WMS lets the pilot know how many missiles or machine-gun rounds remain and integrates with the night vision system that displays on the helmet visor what the night vision (infrared) sensor sees. The pilot can display navigation and weapons system information. There is also a touch screen display that shows a moving map of what the terrain is as well as information on known enemy positions and the presence of friendly or enemy aircraft. This data is obtained via the digital communications link to other aircraft and ground units. Sort of a battlefield Internet. The WMS also enables the helicopter to carry four 5o kg Hellfire missiles which have a larger warhead than APKWS and a range of eight kilometers. Unless facing modern tanks, the APKWS is preferred because the helicopter can carry a dozen of them, or two dozen if no machine-gun pod is carried. There is also a hybrid pod that carries three APKWS missiles in launch cells at the bottom of a machine-gun pod. The MMS and touch screen display are designed to provide maximum timely information with a minimum of pilot effort. This makes operating the fire control less of a chore or distraction.

The MD-530G is the latest version of the MD-530F armed scout helicopter. The G model, even without the Israeli system, has better electronics. With the Israeli IWS the MD-530, which began as a civilian version of the U.S. SOCOM (Special Operations Command) MH-6, becomes the equivalent of the MH-6.

Used for scouting and commando operations the MH-6 (and the similar AH-6) were developed from the 1960s era OH-6 light reconnaissance helicopter. Entering service in the 1980s, the MH/AH-6, or "Little Bird" is a 1.6 ton helicopter with a crew of two and a top speed of 280 kilometers an hour. Sortie length can be as long as three hours but more often are one or two hours. The MD-530G is a little lighter than the MH-6 and has the same cruise (240 kilometers an hour) and top speed as the MH-6. The MD-530G can stay in the air for 2.5 hours using an auxiliary fuel tank while the MH-6 can do that on internal fuel.

The MH/AH-6 was designed so it could be armed with two 7.62mm or 12.7mm machine-gun pods, or two 70mm rocket pods (seven or 12 rockets each) or four Hellfire missiles. The current MH-6 model is often equipped with a day/night targeting system, including a laser designator and laser-guided missiles. Without weapons, the MH-6 can carry six troops (usually Special Forces operators) externally. The MD-530G cannot carry six commandos externally and there are several more differences that are not obvious.

Nearly 5,000 MD-500 type helicopters have been built so far and they are particularly popular with police and military aviation. Because of that the MD-530 model has been regularly “re-militarized” to the point that the IWS equipped MD-530G becomes an MH-6 equivalent. Not identical, because the MH-6 has a lot of features that were added to support commando operations. For the many owners who used their MD-530s as armed scout helicopters, the IWS MD-530G is close enough in capabilities to be considered an MH-6 equivalent.

 


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