Warplanes: February 9, 2005

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: What is the best scout helicopter in the world? First, one must ask what goes into a good scout helicopter? Speed and firepower are not what people look for. Instead, one needs good sensors (to locate the enemy), decent range (so they can search for enemy forces) and a helicopter that is hard to locate. This is much different from an attack helicopter, which might be equipped with a superb avionics suite (like the Apache), but is large and easy to spot. The scouts job is to locate the enemy without giving away its own position.

The standard scout helicopter in the U.S. is the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior. It has a top speed of 226 kilometers per hour, and a range of 241 kilometers. It has a mast-mounted sight, which carries a powerful FLIR (heat sensing camera) and a laser designator (often used to select targets for the AH-64 Apache). This allows the chopper to hide from prying eyes (usually in air-defense units) useful since the Kiowa Warrior only carries four Hellfire (anti-vehicle) or Stinger (anti-aircraft) missiles, or 14 rockets.

The McDonnell-Douglas 500/530 is a widely used scout helicopter. Civilian versions of this helicopter are often used by news outlets in big cities for traffic reports. The military versions also have a limited armament (usually four anti-tank missiles, 7.62mm Gatling guns, or small rocket pods). The MD500/MD-530 has a top speed of 241 kilometers per hour and a range of 428 kilometers. The MD500/530 is in American service specifically with Special Operations command as the MH-6. Usually, however, they operate with a limited avionics suite (usually a telescopic sight for the TOW, and some versions can be flown with night vision goggles).

Frances Aerospatiale designed the Gazelle. This helicopter, like the MD500/530, has been widely exported. It carries HOT anti-tank missiles, Mistral air-to-air missiles, or rockets (67mm or 2.75-inch). It has a top speed of 310 kilometers per hour, and a range of 360 kilometers. Some versions have a roof mounted FLIR (night vision) or telescopic sight.

Japan built its own observation helicopter: The Kawasaki OH-1 is a fast (277km per hour), long-range (550 kilometers) helicopter with a roof-mounted sight that carries a FLIR, a laser designator, and a TV system. This helicopter, named Ninja, is fast and elusive. Its armament is limited (four Type 91 air-to-air missiles).

The stillborn Comanche attack helicopter probably was the ultimate scout helicopter. It has the latest advances in FLIR, a laser designator, and a good optical system, as well as the Longbow millimeter-wave radar, which could locate and ID targets at a distance. It also took advantage of stealth technology. It had a decent armament package (internally, it could carry four Hellfires and two Stingers), and it also had a 20mm gun. Its top speed was 324 kilometers per hour and a range of 556 kilometers. The Comanche also had the ability to accept detachable winglets which gave it the ability to carry eight more Hellfires, making the Comanche an attack helicopter on par with the Apache.

The best of these helicopters is Japans Ninja it has the modern electronics, the speed, and the range to locate the enemy, and to pass on target information to other helicopters. Its only real negative is the lack of a mast-mounted sight like the OH-58D, but the Ninja clearly outclasses the Kiowa Warrior. Perhaps the most telling indication of how good the OH-1 will be is the fact that a variant is being considered to replace Japans AH-1 Cobras. Harold C. Hutchison (hchutch@ix.netcom.com)

 


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