By Bijan Razzaghi
Today’s military helicopter market is primarily focused on bringing the warfighters survivability, ISR capabilities, anti tank capabilities, and air assault capabilities. Customers tend to purchase as many as three different types of helicopters for army aviation units including Attack/Scout, Air Assault and Heavy Lift. In addition navies seek to purchase a single platform capable of both ASW and SAR. The primary challenge in today’s helicopter market is delivering a platform that can operate in environments with MANPADs, and AAA systems. infrared countermeasures, high altitude, speed and maneuverability have been the primary counters to these threats. The primary competitor to the helicopter market are UAVs and Tilt Rotor platforms. The category with the least orders in 2018 is the scout category which has largely been taken over by UAVs and attack helicopters.
Helicopter survivability is dependent on a number of different factors, the primary threats to today’s rotary wing platforms include MANPADs, RPGs, and high caliber machine guns. The ability to circumvent these threats require a combination of sensors and high performance. At the moment the primary strategy in defending against such threats is flying at higher altitudes and at higher speeds. For that older platforms have been upgraded with more powerful engines and redesigned rotor blades. This includes the Boeing AH-64E Apache Guardian and Boeing CH-47F. The Apaches T700 GE-701D and Chinooks T55 GA714As provide enhanced power and better performance. This allows for higher speed and altitude. To improve survivability some clients such as the United States Marine Corp and United States Air Force have procured the MV-22B and CV-22B Osprey tilt rotor platform. Circumventing threats also come in the form of sensors such as the AN/ALQ-144 or the EADs AN/AAR-60 MLIDS. Stand of capability can also ensure survivability from threats for attack helicopters being able to engage targets at longer ranges while avoiding detection. The AN/APG-78 on the Apache Longbow allows for over the horizon targeting for the AGM-114D Hellfire II missile. This is most effective against mobile anti aircraft threats and other anti access systems.
ISR capabilities are another feature most of today’s helicopters including, attack, transport and maritime helicopters come with. Almost all of the helicopters on today’s market will come with a FLIR sensor or have the option be upgraded with one. In addition most dedicated attack helicopters offer radars and advanced sensors such as the Tiger ARM, HAP and AH-64D/E Apaches. Maritime Helicopters such as the Naval variant of the NH-90 and the MH-60R utilize surface radars designed to detect naval vessels.
Almost all Attack and Assault helicopters have the option to equip anti tank weapons. This includes dedicated attack helicopters such as the Denel AH-2 Rooivalk, AH-1Z and Mi-28N Havoc as well as air assault helicopters such as the S-70 Blackhawk, A-109 and Mi-17 Hip. Depending on an army aviation units requirements transports will be ordered with anti tank armaments and function as battlefield support helicopters. The UAE Air Force and IDF Air Force regularly utilize armed S-70 Blackhawks alongside AH-64 Apaches while US Army units often focus on employing dedicated attack platforms along side dedicated transports with the exception of Special Operations Forces such as the 160th SOAR. The requirement for anti tank capable helicopters is also used in light scout helicopters. The Scout helicopter role has largely been taken over by armed UAVs yet some countries continue to operate them. These include the MD-500 and BO-105. These are mostly ordered in small numbers for Special Operations units.
A SAAF Denel AH-2 Rooivalk attack helicopter
Armed transport and battlefield support helicopters are increasingly popular as countries attempt to build up there counter terrorism forces and cut cost by purchasing armed transports. As of 2018 the NH-90TTH Army variant is increasingly popular among customers with orders coming from Qatar, Spain and Germany. The Blackhawk in its 40th year of production remains popular as a proven platform with orders coming from Malaysia and Latvia. Heavier transports are also seeing orders with the CH-47F and CH-53K being the primary heavy lift helicopters in production. These platforms are limited in terms of armament with only door guns being available. The MV-22B Osprey tilt rotor is also on the air assault market with orders coming from Japan. In 2018 the most military helicopter sales came from air assault and transport platforms, with dedicated attack helicopters being second.
An Airbus Helicopters NH-90 TTH stands on the tarmac
Maritime Patrol and ASW
Navies are often seeking helicopters to support warships and conduct search and rescue over water. The Airbus Helicopters Panther, and NH-90 are the primary choice for costumers in 2018. The Lockheed Sikorsky MH-60R has also seen interest and orders from costumers including Mexico and Qatar. The MH-60R is favored by militaries that already equip the S-70 Blackhawk due to the commonality in systems and lower maintenance cost.
A US Navy MH-60R Seahawk maritime helicopter fires a hellfire missile
Despite the advent of tilt rotor platforms and UAVs helicopters continue to remain popular for both operations near and away from the battlefield. Despite the MV-22B Ospreys success it remains the only tilt rotor available on the market and is only affordable for certain customers. Examples include India, and Japan. Helicopters continue to provide a lower cost solution for militaries. As tilt rotor platforms assume combat roles in the 2020s/30s helicopters will continue to operate in less contested environments.