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Bell is developing militarized versions of its civil helicopter line to bring a low-cost defensive rotary-wing capability to market, with the main target being countries that may have previously flown Russian-built airframes.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has resulted in the implementation of crippling economic sanctions on the former, and these are having a knock-on impact on any country attempting to operate a Russian helicopter.
“This is not going to be a momentary thing — those sanctions are going to devastate the Russian rotorcraft industry,” Jeff Schloesser, executive VP of strategic pursuits at Bell, told reporters during a recent briefing at the company’s Flight Research Center in Arlington, Texas.
“It’s not that [these countries] don’t want to buy former Russian equipment or Russian equipment — they’re not going to be able to buy it. . . . As long as the sanctions stay fit, my guess would be the aircraft will be rapidly unflyable.”
Bell’s solution is to offer civil aircraft outfitted with military equipment, and the first type available is the Bell 407. A militarized 407 was shown to reporters during the briefing, having recently returned to Arlington from a firing range where it had tested its capabilities.
The aircraft is equipped with a weapon mounting system — installed along the rear cabin and protruding from the cabin doors — with four mounting stations. A multi-sensor imaging system is mounted under the aircraft’s nose.
The 407 shown to reporters was armed with guns and rockets, but Michael Deslatte, VP and program director of H-1/Special Mission Aircraft at Bell, said it had the capability to carry weapons the size of Advanced Precision Kill Weapon Systems [APKWS] and Hellfire missiles.
“When you talk about the areas of the world that need defensive capabilities on the aircraft, and you talk about some of the exquisite capabilities that we provide to the U.S. military — whether it be H-1 or V-280, or Bell 360 — those are exquisite capabilities,” said Deslatte. “Many threat environments in the world don’t really require that and they don’t necessarily have the budget to support that.”
He said Bell is focused on providing a level of capability that was “a little more approachable,” with the aircraft sold either through the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program or as a direct commercial sale, depending on the country and licensing required.
The level of configuration was entirely customizeable, he added. A light configuration could include fixed forward guns and rocket pods, while a heavier configuration could also include aircrew survivability equipment, such as chaff and flare defensive countermeasures.