U.S. SOCOM (Special Operations Command) has long used the MH-6 (and the AH-6) version of the 1960s era OH-6 for a variety of missions. In the 1970s a civilian version, the MD-500, was introduced and this went on to sell about ten times as many helicopters as the original. Nearly 5,000 MD-500 type helicopters have been built and they are particularly popular with police everywhere and military users outside the United States. SOCOM has been particularly fond of this lightweight (under two tons) helicopter because it is so easy to modify.
SOCOM currently uses about fifty MH-6Ms and has decided to stick with the MH-6M and back off spending any money on developing a new light transport/attack helicopter. The MH-6 manufacturer is already turning out upgrades and these include more powerful engines, additional sensors and fire control systems as well as the ability to use new types of guided missiles. The most recent military MD-500 model is the MD-530F which has a new fire control system that can handle two rocket pods each with a seven 70mm rockets each. Further upgrades include a laser designator and the ability to fire the guided missile version of the 70mm rocket. The MD-530F can also carry three passengers in the back.
Developed in the early 1980s, the basic AH-6, or "Little Bird" is a 1.4 ton helicopter with a crew of two, top speed of 280 kilometers an hour and sorties is 3-3.5 hours long. It can be armed with two 7.62mm or 12.7mm machine-gun pods, two 70mm rocket pods or four Hellfire missiles. Without weapons, the MH-6 can carry six troops (usually Special Forces operators) externally. Then there is the AH-6I, a gunship version of the OH-6 scout helicopter. The AH-6I has night sensors and laser designator, and most of the other electronics that equip the latest version of the AH-64. The AH-6I can also carry a day/night targeting system, including a laser designator. The AH-6I also carries four Hellfire, or a dozen or more of the 70mm guided rockets (which weigh a quarter of what the Hellfire does.) The AH-6I enables nations to have helicopter gunship capability at a cost of only about six million dollars per aircraft. That's about a tenth of what an AH-64D would cost, and a third of what a Russian gunship goes for.