A STAR ON THE HORIZON – A CONTENDER FOR A PLANNED AUSTRALIAN MILITARY REQUIREMENT FOR A LIGHT ATTACK / RECONNAISSANCE HELICOPTER FOR SF OPERATIONS

AUSTRALIAN MILITARY REQUIREMENT FOR A LIGHT ATTACK / RECONNAISSANCE HELICOPTER ANNOUNCEMENT IN 2016 DEFENCE WHITE PAPER – NORTHSTAR AVIATION 407MRH CONTENDER

In the last year the Australian Government released a new Defence White Paper seen at http://www.defence.gov.au/whitepaper/docs/2016-defence-white-paper.pdf – which outlines future defence programs and capabilities to be acquired. The key outcome of the White Paper is moving the strategy of the Australian military to an expansion phase where it will be working with being forward deployed more frequently and engaging any threat using high technology platforms and systems

One of the new projects under this change in strategy is discussed in section 4.60 (as shown below), with the wording indicating that a new deployable Light Attack and Reconnaissance helicopter platform is needing to be acquired for supporting the Australian Special Forces units:

A new capability for the ADF will be introduced with the acquisition of dedicated light helicopters to support Special Forces operations. These light helicopters can be rapidly deployed in C-17s, and can insert, extract and provide fire support for small teams of Special Forces undertaking tasks ranging from tactical observation through to counter-terrorism missions, or hostage recovery.

The need for a highly capable light weight and small platform by the ADF as it changes its strategy and tactics in the longer term is critical. Currently there is no light weight attack helicopter in use. The ADF has a variety of platforms but none are fully mission customised or specific for their Special Forces missions, most have been modifications of existing platforms. Special Forces operations need to have their own customised organic light support as seen with similar US Army 160th SOAR operations. The idea of a deployable package means the successful light helicopter will ideally be a small size to fit into the existing RAAF tactical and strategic air lift transports.

The new light attack helicopter will also complement a new rotary platform (yet to be confirmed at this time) which will aim to replace the Tiger ARH from around the mid 2020s. The Tiger is expecting and surprisingly to many to have a relatively short life cycle in the ADF and be withdrawn from use much earlier than expected at this current time.  The White Paper identified a need for this role to be filled and the rotary wing program is expecting to have a budget of around $2billion with upper estimates of $3billion. The in-service date is planned for around 2025 onwards.

NORTHSTAR AVIATION 407MRH AT AVALON AIRSHOW

Once such contender for the light attack helicopter role was on show at recent the Avalon Airshow n Victoria. With the ADF requirement identified, a private company has begun a sales pitch to the ADF with their potential candidate for the role – the NorthStar Aviation 407MRH.

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NorthStar Aviation (NSA) is a company based in Abu Dubai and has facilities in the USA to support its operations. The NSA product uses a baseline commercial Bell 407GXP – see the helicopter here in detail – http://www.bellhelicopter.com/commercial/bell-407gxp and converts it into a military weapon system using add-on capabilities such as Electro Optical and Infrared (IO/EO) sensors with laser target designators, M134 Gatling gun, GAU-19 Gatling gun, and air to ground laser guided missiles and rockets. The 407MRH can also be used in close air support (CAS), ISR, search and rescue and medevac roles.

Down Under Aviation News met James Jett, Director Technical Services of NorthStar Aviation. James was part of the NSA team who were displaying their 407MRH product to the business trade customers, military officials and the public across the 6 day airshow. NSA offers various options covering turnkey modifications, pilot training, maintenance and technical solutions for government and defence customers around the world. The 407MRH brought to Australia was an operational machine and it is an example of a product that has been developed by a private company bringing together off the shelf OEM equipment to make a new military system for global government defence forces who need a capability filled in light attack roles.

INSIDE THE 407MRH

The NSA 407MRH package ideally fills the gap where militaries would in the past buy a dedicated high level weapon platform from a OEM and then operate them. This approach would mean the issue of high platform cost maybe limiting numbers of airframe purchases. The NSA product takes a relatively low cost, successful and mass produced civil helicopter and by adding on customer specific capabilities and technologies, these enhancements offer virtually what amounts to nearly equal the higher end of the market offerings. This more affordable package turns the Bell 407 into a highly effective, multi role and much more affordable military system for many countries who may be restrained from the higher end purchases.

FLIGHT AND NAVIGATION  SYSTEMS

The heart of the 407MRH is the state of the art Garmin navigation system which is integrated with a range of IR/EO sensors, mission management software and components and weapons management system with a 4 station weapIMG_1483ons platform. The systems that can be added to the  407MRH include –  Garmin G1000H system, dual VHF ATC radios, microwave downlink system, dual GPS system, transponder, Garmin synthetic vision system, night vision capable cockpit, TACAN radar altimeter, mission management system with a tactical moving map combined with mission planning along with video recording capabilities. Cockpit and cabin armour is also an option.

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AIRFRAME FEATURES

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WEAPONS SYSTEMS

The weapons systems that can be added to the 407 airframe include AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, GAU-19 machine gun (.50 cal), Hydra 70mm air to ground rockets and the well known M134 mini gun system.

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NSA has already delivered to the UAE Government 30 of the 407MRH helicopters with more potential customers looking to buy the light attack platform. NorthStar Aviation has been in discussions with ADF personnel at previous airshows and also hosted visits to the USA site. Many ADF officials visited the NorthStar Aviation 407MRH display at Avalon and tried out the helicopter and discussed the capabilities with the sales team.

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The ADF may see the 407MRH as a natural purchase considering the history of the ADF in using the locally manufactured Bell 206 Kiowa light reconnaissance helicopters since the mid 1970s. The ability to operate a relatively simple, commercial helicopter would keep costs down as many operators in Australia already use the Bell 407 and the older 206 variants.

A walk around view of the helicopter.

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NSA has the capabilities to design, prototype and enhance existing products to suit customer’s needs. NSA maintains high standards of safety, quality and teamwork to ensure the end result is exactly what the client wants. Working closely with OEMs and off the shelf suppliers, NorthStar Aviation claims to be able to deliver new military or civil systems faster and less expensive than an OEM could. NSA also offers maintenance support programs along with logistic supply chains and planning tools to help sustain operations of fleets.  You can learn more about NSA at www.usanstar.com

Down Under Aviation News thanks James Jett and NorthStar Aviation for kindly letting us examine the systems and discuss the 407MRH capabilities. We wish them well in the upcoming light attack helicopter competition.

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