October 10, 2011:
U.S. SOCOM (Special Operations Command) is upgrading its MH-60, MH-47 and AH-6 helicopters with improved fire-control systems. A new and improved forward-looking infrared radar (FLIR) and laser designator is especially important for the AH-6, which is a gunship version of the MH-6 "Little Bird" light transport helicopter. In a place like Afghanistan, the small AH-6 is, armed with half a ton of weapons (usually a 7.62mm/12.7mm/30mm machine-gun and guided missiles), has proved to be particularly effective. Both AH-6 and MH-6 are military versions of the civilian MD-500. The MH-6 weighs up to two tons and can carry six commandos, who sit outside on the skids. The MH-6 is small, and has a range of about 500 kilometers. The MH-6 has an extensive array of electronics on board, making it capable of operating at night and in any weather. The AH-6 replaced the six commandos with weapons and fire control systems.
The SOCOM helicopters have always been equipped to fly at night, and in the last decade have received better fire control systems for fighting at night. SOCOM wants new helicopters, but shrinking budgets means that upgrades and refurbishment will be more common.