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Slovakia receives offer of 12 new AH-1Z Viper attack helicopters and Hellfire II missiles from the United States.

| 2023

On March 23, the Slovakian Ministry of Defence confirmed that the US has offered to provide 12 new AH-1Z Viper combat helicopters along with AGM-114 Hellfire II air-to-ground missiles to the Slovak Republic Armed Forces. The offer is valued at over $1bn, of which around $660m will be provided to Slovakia from the US’ FMF funding initiative.

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Slovakia receives offer of 12 new AH 1Z Viper attack helicopters and Hellfire II from the United States Bell AH-1Z Viper of the U.S. Marine Corps  (Picture source: U.S. DoD)

Slovak Defence Minister Jaroslav Naď confirmed that one part of the announced compensation for transferring to Ukraine of 13 retired Slovak Air Force MiG-29 Fulcrums, which are unusable in Slovakia, and some of the "Kub" (SA-6 "Gainful") air defense system's assets is related to the U.S. offer to Slovakia of 12 new AH-1Z Viper attack helicopters along with associated accessories, the training of pilots and technicians, and sophisticated AGM-114 Hellfire II air-to-surface missiles.

Defence Minister Jaroslav Naď said: “This offer is hugely advantageous and will significantly increase Slovakia’s defense potential. Currently, we have no combat helicopters, so it would be a completely new combat capability.”

The value of this package is estimated at more than $1bn. Of this, some $660m will be provided to Slovakia from the U.S. Department of Defense's Foreign Military Financing (FMF) Programme. Under the deal, Slovakia will pay $340m from the Defence budget over the next 3-4 years.

The head of the SVK MOD repeatedly said that a number of countries were interested in the said equipment, whereas he took the U.S. offer to Slovakia very positively. He noted that the move could also be perceived as indirect compensation from the U.S. Government for the announced delay in the delivery of the F-16 Fighting Falcons Slovakia ordered for the Slovak Air Force.

Both sides are ready to sign a U.S.-SVK intergovernmental agreement regarding the offer once Slovakia has handed its MiG-29 Fulcrum fleet and some of its "Kub" (SA-6 "Gainful") air defense system's assets over to Ukraine.

Slovakia receives offer of 12 new AH 1Z Viper attack helicopters and Hellfire II from the United States 2 Bell AH-1Z Viper of Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron (HMLA) 469, Marine Aircraft Group 39, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Picture source: U.S. Marine Corps)

Bell AH-1Z Viper

The AH-1Z Viper is a twin-engine attack helicopter, based on the AH-1W SuperCobra. It is one of the latest members of the prolific Bell UH-1 Huey family, it is also called "Zulu Cobra", based on the military phonetic alphabet pronunciation of its variant letter.

The AH-1Z was developed during the 1990s and 2000s as a part of the H-1 upgrade program on behalf of the United States Marine Corps (USMC). It is essentially a modernisation of the service's existing AH-1Ws, and was originally intended to be a rebuild program before subsequent orders were made for new-build helicopters instead. The AH-1Z and Bell UH-1Y Venom utility helicopter share a common tailboom, engines, rotor system, drivetrain, avionics architecture, software, controls and displays for over 84% identical components. Furthermore, it features a four-blade, bearingless, composite main rotor system, uprated transmission, and a new target sighting system amongst other improvements. On 8 December 2000, the AH-1Z conducted its maiden flight; low-rate initial production was launched in October 2003.

On 30 September 2010, the USMC declared that the AH-1Z had attained combat readiness; it fully replaced the preceding AH-1W Super Cobra during October 2020. The type forms a key element of the Aviation Combat Element (ACE) taskforce which support all phases of USMC expeditionary operations. Since its introduction, the USMC has pursued various upgrades, such as installing Link 16 datalink and outfitting it with the AGM-179A Joint Air-to-Ground Missile (JAGM). Additionally, numerous export customers have been sought for the AH-1Z, it has regularly competed with the Boeing AH-64 Apache for orders. The first export customer was the Royal Bahraini Air Force, the Czech Air Force has also ordered the type. At one point, Pakistan was set to operate its own AH-1Zs, but deliveries were blocked due to political factors.

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