Croatia is to conclude the planned deal for 16 Bell OH-58D Kiowa Warrior armed scout helicopters in May 2015, according to sources in Zagreb.
According to a letter of intent signed in November 2014 the United States will provide the choppers free of charge as part of the Excess Defense Articles (EDA) Program and since Croatia is an allied nation. However, Zagreb is trying to secure funds to modernize / upgrade / overhaul the ex-US Army machines before they will be transferred to the Balkan nation.
Helicopters for the US Army are equipped with, among other high-resolution cameras, laser for marking targets, devices that allow fly at night and in bad visibility. Armed with the anti-tank and anti-aircraft guns and machine gun. Getting these helicopters would be only part of the process of replacing the existing Russian-made helicopters.
The Kiowa Warriors – of which more than 2,200 have been built – are to replace the Mil Mi-24 “Hind” attack helicopters the Croatian Air Force already has retired. However, it is uncertain if the new choppers will be based at the former Hind location of Pleso – near Zagreb – or divided over Pleso and other airbases like Zemunik in Zadar where the 93 Air Base Helicopter Squadron (93 Zrakoplovna Baza Eskadrila Helikoptera) already flies the Bell 206B, based on the same Jet Ranger model as the OH-58.
Flown by a crew of two the OH-58Ds normally operate with speeds of about 110 knots (127 mph or 204 kmh) and have a range of 160 miles (555 km). Airborne for max. 2 hours at a time the Kiowa Warriors can be armed on two points, one on each side of the chopper, with either a .50 or 12.7 mm machine gun, a LAU-68 rocket launcher for up to seven Hydra 70 rockets or 2 AGM-114 Hellfire missiles. Sources close the acquisition process believe Croatia will order the Hellfire anti-tank missiles almost certainly with the chopper order, with estimates running from 160 to 500 Hellfires during a first order.
Apart from the Kiowa Warrior deal Zagreb also hopes to be able to sell the remaining 12 to 14 aging Mil Mi-8-MTV transport helicopters flown by 93 Air Base Helicopter Transport Squadron out of the Divulje Barracks in Split, to free funds for the acquisition of 12 to 15 Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, either of the new M-standard or former US Army machines.
2015 Airheadsfly.com editor Marcel Burger
Featured image (top): A US Army 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade OH-58 Kiowa Warrior in the Ghazni province in Afghanistan in December 2011 (Image © US Army)