The US State Department has approved the possible foreign military sale (FMS) to the Czech Republic of an AH-1Z Viper and UH-1Y Venom refurbishment and modernisation package with an estimated value of up to $650m.

In a 3 May announcement by from the US Defence Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA), the request from the Czech Republic was for equipment and services for refurbish six AH-1Z attack helicopters and two UH-1Y platform, taken up from excess defence articles stock.

Additional equipment will include: 22 T-700 GE 401C engines, 14 Honeywell Embedded Global Positioning System Inertial Navigation Systems; four M240 machine guns; and 24 ARC-210 COMSEC radios.

The DSCA described the proposed sale as supporting “the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of a Nato partner” that was an “important force” for stability in Europe. The principal contractors will be Bell Helicopter/Textron, Texas, and General Electric Company, Massachusetts.

According to Sai Kiran, defence analyst at GlobalData, the Czech Air Force currently operates two types of transport helicopters (Mi-17s and W-3A Sokols) and single attack helicopter type (Mi-24/35). All of these helicopters were bought second hand from Russia and Poland and are almost obsolete.

The decision to replace these fleets with platforms from a single manufacturer will provide reduced logistics and support benefits and was the primary reason in opting for the Bell Textron rotary tandem.

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In order to completely replace the Mi-35/24Vs, with eight units currently in inventory, the Czech government made an additional request for six units in 2023.

“So, the total request for AH-1Z is now ten helicopters, four in 2019 and six in 2023. The additional request for UH-1s in 2023 will replace the existing fleet of Mi-17s and W-3A Sokols,” Kiran said.

A 2019 Government-to-Government agreement between the Czech Republic and the US saw a requirement of 12 helicopters. However, the US is donating an additional eight, bringing up the combined fleet total to 20 helicopters, with ten UH-1Y and 10 AH-1Z platform.

Rotary production underway for Czech new builds

In 2019 the DSCA announced that the US State Department had approved the possible FMS of four AH-1Z attack helicopters and related equipment for an estimated cost of $205m.

In statement noted that the Czech Republic was “considering either the UH-60M or the UH-1Y/AH-1Z” to replace its ageing Mi-24 helicopters, and “intended to use the helicopters to modernise its armed forces and strengthen its homeland defence”.

In February 2022 Bell Textron said that production work on the four AH-1Z aircraft had begun, following the start of manufacture for the UH-1Y platforms in July 2021.

Operated by the US Marine Corps, the AH-1 series has also achieved a number of overseas sales, into countries such as Taiwan and Turkey, while also looking to gain a share of the European market.

In March this year the US offered to provide 12 new AH-1Z Viper combat helicopters along with AGM-114 Hellfire II air-to-ground missiles to the Slovak Republic Armed Forces, subsequently confirmed by Slovakia’s Ministry of Defence on 23 March.

The offer to transfer helicopters and missiles came three days after Slovakia announced that it would donate 13 MiG-29 fighter aircraft, two Kub anti-aircraft missile systems and its control system and equipment to the Ukrainian Armed Forces.