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The US government has offered to provide 12 AH-1Z Viper attack helicopters to the Slovak armed forces at a heavily discounted price as compensation for the MiG-29 fighters it is donating to Ukraine.

Announcing the offer on 21 March 2023, Slovak Defence Minister Jaroslav Nad’ said the helicopters will be new and would come with a package that includes spare parts, training for aircrew and maintainers, and a consignment of AGM-114 Hellfire II anti-tank missiles.

According to a 22 March posting on the Slovak Ministry of Defence (MoD) website, the value of the Viper package would be “slightly over USD 1 Bn” (EUR 0.92 Bn), of which around USD 660 M would be provided to Slovakia by the US government via the US Foreign Military Financing programme. This would leave Slovakia having to pay around USD 340 M, which the Slovak MoD said would be funded over three to four years as part of the country’s planned defence budget.

“This offer is really very advantageous and will significantly increase the defence potential of the Slovak Republic,” Nad’ was quoted as saying. “Currently, we do not have combat helicopters at all, so this would be a completely new combat capability.”

A USMC AH-1Z Viper takes off in Charleston, West Virginia, on 26 July, 2019. Vipers would significantly enhance the Slovak Air Force’s combat capabilities. (Photo: USMC)

The Slovak Air Force previously operated 10 Mi-24V and five Mi-24D attack helicopters, but these were retired and placed into storage in 2011.

The Bell AH-1Z Viper attack helicopter is a significant upgrading of the AH-1W SuperCobra that achieved an initial operating capability with the US Marine Corps in February 2011. Powered by two General Electric T700-GE-401C turboshaft engines each delivering 1,800 shp, the AH-1Z has a top speed of 200 kts (370.4 km/h), a maximum range of 310 n miles (574 km), a combat radius of 131 n miles (242.6 km) and is crewed by a pilot and co-pilot/gunner. As well as being armed with a 20 mm rotary cannon in a nose turret, the AH-1Z has six pylon station on two stub wings that can carry a total payload of 2,615 kg. Using these the helicopter can carry a mix of 70 mm rockets, AGM-114 Hellfire air-to-surface missiles and AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles.

The AH-1Z’s other main features include a four-blade rotor, glass cockpits for both crewmembers and a third-generation Target Sight System that Bell claims “provides the longest-range and highest-accuracy of any helicopter sight in the world”.

Slovakia announced that it would donate its fleet of around a dozen retired MiG-29s to Ukraine on 17 March 2023, following a similar declaration by Poland the previous day. Slovakia also pledged to supply Ukraine with two 2K12 Kub mobile surface-to-air missile systems.

The neighbouring Czech Republic is also an operator of the AH-1Z. It ordered four Vipers in September 2020 (along with eight UH-1Y Venom utility/armed assault helicopters), while in August 2022 the US government said it would gift another six AH-1Zs to Prague (along with two UH-1Ys) in recognition of the country’s defence equipment donations to Ukraine.

Peter Felstead