The aeronautical arm of the Iraqi Army is also looking to buy other helicopters from Bell, a company that has just said publicly that it is trying to take advantage of new market opportunities created by the conflict in Ukraine.
Details about the Iraqi Army’s Mi-17 replacement plans and other helicopter modernization efforts were contained in a quarterly report on Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) issues released jointly earlier this week by the Offices of the Inspector General. from the Department of Defense, the Department of State and the Agency for International Development (USAID). Operation Inherent Resolve is the official nickname for the US-led coalition’s campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
The current plan is then to purchase “4 Bell 412EPX and 16 Bell 412M medium transport helicopters to replace the fleet of Russian-made Mi-17s due to [the] inability to acquire spare parts due to the war in Ukraine.” .
The Bell 412EPX is one of the latest variants of the successful 412 line and was originally developed in cooperation with Subaru in Japan for that country’s UH-X contest. The 412EPX won that contest, and the first example of what that country has designated the UH-2 was delivered to the Japanese Ministry of Defense in July 2022.
The 412EPX is based on the preceding 412EPI variant, features improved avionics and other mission systems, and a modern glass cockpit. The entire Bell 412 series is part of the iconic Bell Huey family of helicopters.
More recently, Bell has introduced the 412M as part of a larger push to offer various commercial types with factory-integrated weapons and other features for use by military and other security forces. The Bell website says the 412M is set up to house CFD International’s Huey Ordnance Stowage System, which consists of door-mounted machine guns and hardpoints for various types of forward-firing weapons, as well as a sensor turret. under the muzzle
In addition to the 412, the Iraqi Army wants to purchase “15 new Bell 407M light attack helicopters, including associated rocket and gun systems, avionics, and pilot/maintainer training, to replace the aging ISF fleet of 407s” and “15 new Bell 505 training helicopters to replace the ISF’s aging Bell 407 and OH-58 training fleet,” according to the recent OIR report.
The basic Bell 407 was an evolution of the Bell 206L-4 LongRanger light helicopter that also incorporated features originally developed for the US Army’s OH-58D Kiowa Warrior armed scout helicopter. The OIR report notes that the Iraqi Army already operates several types of Bell 407s, including armed IA-407s and upgraded 407GX variants.
The further improved 407M is another example of the new line of militarized commercial types Bell is now marketing.
The Bell 505, also known as the Jet Ranger X, is a relatively new light helicopter design from Bell that takes advantage of the rotor system and other components of the earlier 206L-4. The company has marketed him as a trainer, among other functions.
According to the OIR quarterly report, the Iraqi Army intends to purchase all of these Bell helicopters through the US Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program, whereby the US government helps facilitate the sale. Specifically, the purchase of the Bell 505 is expected to be made using Foreign Military Financing (FMF), which consists of direct US financing in the form of block grants or loans.
The report does not mention any problems the Iraqi military may face in using its Russian-made Mi-24/Mi-35 Hind or Mi-28NE Havoc attack helicopters, nor any immediate plans to replace them. However, the US Army’s Office of Security Cooperation-Iraq (OSC-I) told inspectors general that it is “working with the Iraqi MoD [Ministry of Defense] to convert the entire Iraqi Army Air Corps fleet (IqAAC) to US-produced aircraft to simplify parts procurement, maintenance, and training.”
Interestingly, this is very similar to the US government’s pressure to remove Russian-made types from the now-defunct Afghan Air Force and raises several similar questions regarding practicality and utility. First of all, it should be noted that neither the Bell 412EPX nor the 412M is in any way equivalent to the Mi-17. The Hip is a much larger helicopter than the Mi-17, and its size is much larger than the Bell 412EPX. The Hip is a much larger helicopter with higher performance and payload capacity and has the advantage of a rear ramp for the loading and unloading of personnel and cargo.
To get a better idea of the capacity differences, Bell says the 412M can seat a maximum of 14 passengers and has a “payload” of just under 5,130 pounds. An Mi-17 can carry up to 26 people and has a maximum internal payload capacity of nearly 4,000 kilograms (8,818 ½ pounds).
US authorities had previously pressured the Afghan Air Force to replace its Mi-17s with UH-60A+ Black Hawks, despite similarly admitting that the US-made helicopters were not as capable in some aspects of performance. That transition was still underway when the Taliban retook control of the country in August 2021. In fact, several Mi-17s from the former Afghan Air Force returned to the United States before being transferred to the Ukrainian military.
According to the report, the Iraqi military is already looking into the possibility of acquiring more armed Bell 407Ms in addition to the initial planned tranche of 15 units. These helicopters could replace some Mi-24/Mi-35 or Mi-28NE if there were a similar shortage of parts, but again they would offer much more limited capabilities than the Russian helicopters. In addition to being substantially larger and more heavily armed and armored, the Hinds, specifically, have a secondary troop-carrying capability that makes them unique among attack helicopters currently in service anywhere in the world.
The Bell 407M can still be armed with an impressive array of different weapons, including various precision-guided munitions such as the Hellfire and Griffin missiles. Introducing guidance kits for 70mm rockets has further increased the options for turning light helicopters like this into precision attackers.
The Iraqi military could, of course, try to procure more directly comparable replacement attack helicopters from US or other non-Russian sources. In 2021, Iraqi Defense Minister Juma Inad said his country had reached a preliminary agreement to buy 12 T129 ATAK helicopters made by Turkish Aerospace Industries. At the time, the possibility of the US Congress stalling the deal was raised over various disputes with the Turkish government, and it is unclear if any movement has been made in relation to this purchase. The T129s are powered by US-built LHTEC T800-4A engines, the export of which would require approval from US authorities.
In any case, if the conflict in Ukraine continues to test the availability of spare parts for Russian-made Mi-17s and other types of military helicopters, the options available to countries like Iraq may be limited overall. These problems could easily be compounded by the fact that the Russian defense industry as a whole is now suffering from crippling Western sanctions.
In addition, the US government, through the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAASTA), which predates Russia’s full invasion of Ukraine, has readily available options to impose sanctions on countries that buy weapons and other military systems from Moscow. Turkey, a NATO ally of the United States, was subject to CAASTA sanctions in 2020 for its purchase of S-400 surface-to-air missile systems from Russia. Since then, the CAASTA threat and other sanctions have scuttled other Russian arms deals, including a possible sale of Mi-17s to the Philippines.
Bell and Sikorsky have already made it clear that they are interested in taking advantage of this geopolitical situation to offer their products as an alternative.
“It’s not just that they don’t want to buy old Russian equipment; it’s that they’re not going to be able to,” Jeff Schloesser, Bell’s executive vice president for strategic activities, said last month at Bell’s Fort Worth, Texas, headquarters. “Those industries are going to go into a very severe decline over the next two years, and as long as the sanctions are in place, my view is that helicopters will quickly become unviable.”
In short, it will be interesting to see exactly how Iraq proceeds with the modernization of its helicopter fleets, which could be the start of a broader trend.