The U.S. Department of State has approved the sale to Thailand of eight AH-6i light attack/reconnaissance helicopters and related weapons and equipment at an estimated cost of $400 million, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency said in a release.
“These AH-6i helicopters will replace the RTA’s aging fleet of seven AH-1F Cobra helicopters,” as part of a broader military modernization effort, the Tuesday, September 24 release said.
“This proposed sale will support the foreign policy and national security objectives of the United States by helping to improve the security of a major non-NATO ally” in the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command area of responsibility, DSCA said.
The sale will improve the Royal Thai Army’s capability to strengthen its homeland defense and deter regional threats, DSCA said, adding that the AH-6i helicopters “will provide light attack reconnaissance for close air support to special operations forces, Stryker infantry soldiers and border guard units.”
In addition to the eight aircraft, the government of Thailand requested to buy 10 M299 Longbow Hellfire Launchers and 50 AGM-114R Hellfire missiles, along with 10 M260 rocket launchers and 200 Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System (APKWS) guided rockets.
The M299 launcher missile launcher carries four Hellfire air-to-surface missiles and can launch AGM-114R “Romeo” missiles equipped with semi-active laser seeker and a K-charge multi-purpose warhead, as well as AGM-114L “Longbow Hellfire” millimeter-wave radar seeker-equipped fire-and-forget and lock-on after launch capable missiles.
APKWS upgrades 2.75-inch (70 mm) rockets to a semi-active laser guided precision weapon. The system is a design conversion for Hydra 70 unguided rockets turning them into low-yield precision-guided munitions to help avoid collateral damage.
The proposed sale also includes eight L3 Wescam MX-10Di sensor turrets that can include laser designators, 10 M134 Mini Guns, four GAU-19/B .50 calibre machine guns and 500 Hydra 70 rockets, along with night vision goggles, communications and navigation equipment, an Aircrew Trainer, a Pilot Desktop Trainer, and a Virtual Maintenance Trainer, training, and other program support.
The estimated total program cost is $400 million and the principal contractor is Boeing.
Boeing’s latest in Little Bird line
Boeing’s AH-6i gunship is a light attack/reconnaissance helicopter based on the storied Hughes OH-6 Cayuse – better known as the Little Bird – that first flew in 1963. The commercial version was named the Hughes 500, later renamed the MD 500 after McDonnell Douglas purchased Hughes Helicopters in 1984. Following Boeing’s later merger with McDonnell Douglas, MD Helicopters purchased the MD 500 line, and produces aircraft – including military variants – based on the platform.
Designed primarily for export, the small-but-powerful AH-6i is an advanced and flexible variant of the AH-6M operated by the U.S. Army Special Operations Forces which can be configured for a range of missions including light attack and close support, reconnaissance, troop insertion and extraction and search and rescue.