Military, Again: Afghan AF Picks MD-530F Helicopters
In March 2011, MD Helicopters, Inc. in Mesa, AZ won a competition for the Afghan Air Force that could reach as many as 54 helicopters over the life of the 4 year contract, giving it an implicit value of up to $180 million. Discussions with MD Helicopters confirmed that these are MD 530Fs, designed for high altitude and/or hot weather operations, where thinner air costs helicopters some of their lift.
The MD 530F uses Rolls Royce’s 650 shp 250-C30 engine, instead of the 500E’s 450-shp 250-C20R. That drives a 5-bladed set of main-rotor blades that have been extended 6 inches, along with lengthened tail rotors on a correspondingly longer tail boom. In a typical working configuration, at a design gross weight of 3,100 pounds/ 1,406 kg and a useful load of over 1,509 pounds/ 684 kg, it can hover out-of-ground effect at 11,600 feet/ 3,536m (ISA + 20Â°C). An optional cargo hook is rated for 2,000 pounds/ 907 kg, and the helicopter also has a flat aft cargo compartment floor for internal loads. These may be training helicopters, but they can be repurposed for light utility tasks. MD Helicopter designs are not unknown in the military market.
MD’s Military Rise, Fall… and Rise?
Hughes’ OH-6 Cayuse/”Loach” was legendary as a light utility helicopter and gunship. OH-6s still serve with some militaries, their AH-6J/M “Little Bird” descendant is still used as a light gunship by US Special Forces’ 160th SOAR, and the MD500/530 Defender series of light attack helicopters is still in operation around the world in Israel, South Korea, and elsewhere.
The purchase and breakup of Hughes Helicopter into Boeing (AH-64 Apache, AH-6 Little Bird) and MD (civilian helicopters) badly hurt this helicopter family’s global momentum and presence, as Boeing chose to focus on the AH-64 Apache as its military offering. After its 2005 purchase and recapitalization by Patriarch Partners, MD tried to re-enter the light military segment, but losses in the US Army’s ARH armed reconnaissance and LUH light utility competitions left them still looking for a new military foothold.
While Mexico’s Navy uses the innovative MD Explorer, whose quieter NOTAR rotorless tail design sharply lowers the advance warning given to its targets, other military export orders have been slim. The Afghan order could reverse that trend, and a fleet of 54 helicopters would see use beyond the primary trainer role. That would re-establish MD Helicopters as a global competitor in the light utility space.
MD Helicopters also has a July 2010 Memorandum of Understanding with Boeing for the AH-6i Light Attack Helicopter [PDF], which has been selected by Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Boeing is actively seeking to close those contracts, finalize arrangements with MD Helicopters, and recruit other buyers. Their main global competitors are armed variants of the Bell 407, variants of Eurocopter’s EC145 and EC635 – and for advanced militaries, armed VT-UAVs like Northrop Grumman’s MQ-8 Fire Scout and Boeing’s cutting-edge YMQ-18 Hummingbird.
Contracts & Key Events
Feb 21/12: A US Army article discusses the training process and personnel involved in the MD-530F effort.
Sept 13/11: MD Helicopters, Inc. presents the first 3 Afghan MD-530Fs to the U.S. Army, as part of the Rotary Wing Primary Training Aircraft-Afghanistan Program.
Sept 7/11: MD Helicopters, Inc. in Mesa, AZ receives a $14.2 million firm-fixed-price contract modification to provide logistics support and flight training devices for the Afghan Air Force’s MD 530Fs. Work will be performed in Shindand, Afghanistan, with an estimated completion date of March 31/16. One bid was solicited for this, with one bid received by U.S. Army Contracting Command in Redstone Arsenal, AL (W58RGZ-11-C-0070).
March 14/11: MD Helicopters, Inc. in Mesa, AZ wins an initial $19.9 million firm-fixed-price contract for 6 new primary training helicopters, 2 corresponding flight training devices, and critical spare parts for the Afghan Air Force.
That initial order could reach as many as 54 helicopters over the life of the 4 year contract, giving it an implicit value of up to $180 million. Work will be performed in Mesa, AZ with an estimated completion date of March 31/16. The U.S. Army Contracting Command at Redstone Arsenal, AL solicited 9 bids, with 4 bids received (W58RGZ-11-C-0070).