Why didn’t the USMC buy AH-64 Apache helicopters instead of continuing to upgrade AH-1 Cobras?
The AH-1 Cobra is a two-blade rotor, single-engine attack helicopter manufactured by Bell Helicopter. It was developed using the engine, transmission and rotor system of the Bell UH-1 Iroquois. A member of the prolific Huey family, the AH-1 is also referred to as the HueyCobra or Snake.
The AH-1 was the backbone of the US Army’s attack helicopter fleet, but has been replaced by the AH-64 Apache in Army service. Upgraded versions continue to fly with the militaries of several other nations. The AH-1 (AH-1W Super Cobra and AH-1Z Viper) twin-engine versions remain in service with US Marine Corps (USMC) as the service’s primary attack helicopter.
Why didn’t the USMC buy Apache helicopters instead of continuing to upgrade Cobras?
‘I had this same discussion with a friend of mine that is a Marine Huey crew chief. Turns out the answer is pretty simple, it’s because the Marines still use Huey’s. But the explanation as to why they still use Huey’s goes back a bit,’ Damien Leimbach, Former Avionics Technician at US Air Force, says on Quora.
‘The original cobra was a derivative of the Huey airframe. They used the same engine, transmission, flight controls, rotor blades, tail boom, ect. In fact when first built it was called the “HueyCobra.”
‘This lineage is easy to see with the naked eye, especially the first gen Cobras that had the rounded bubble canopy.
‘Note the similarities in lines and general appearance.
‘It made sense for the Army and Marines in the 1960’s to adopt a system that used so many common parts as the Huey they already had in service, as it streamlined supply and training.
‘But the Army and Marines have different missions. The Army’s job is to confront other Armies, who will probably have tanks. During the Cold War it was expected that the US Army would have a confrontation with Warsaw Pact forces in Europe, as a million screaming Soviets would pour through the Fulda gap with their tanks leading the way.
‘The gap was so important that the US alone dedicated the entire V and VII Corps to its exclusive defense, comprising several infantry divisions, several armored divisions, several cavalry regiments and multiple helicopter brigades.’
‘The Army wanted something with more anti-armor punch than what the Cobra could deliver back in the 70’s, and so it paid for the development of the AH-64 Apache to replace it.
‘Moving infantry around in Europe required hauling a little more than the Huey could provide as well, so the Army paid for the development of the Blackhawk to replace it.
‘The US Air Force also recognized the Fulda gap’s importance, and concentrated its airpower in this corridor, partially distributed amongst small bases in the region.
‘This dedicated anti-armor mission also led to the development of one of the world’s most iconic airplanes, the A-10, specifically designed to confront tanks in Europe.
‘But wait, isn’t this about the Marines?
‘It is. What you will look for very hard but not find a lot of are Marine bases in Germany or Marine divisions stationed there. That’s because blunting an armored assault across the plains is not their job. Their job is to assault beaches, and to fight from ships to support those beach landings.
‘The Apache could carry a little more and go a little faster than the Cobra, but it was twice the weight of a Cobra and also twice the price. It took up more space on deck and consumed more fuel, and was also more maintenance intensive.
‘It’s a similar story with the Huey and the Blackhawk. A little bigger, a little faster, but much more expensive.
‘More importantly, the Apache was a Hughes (now Boeing) product, and the Blackhawk was from Sikorsky. So, zero parts commonality with each other or either of the two Bell helicopters the Marines already had.’
‘So, the Marines decided they didn’t need the new toys, and kept upgrading and improving what they had in order to keep the very efficient system of common training, tools and interchangeable parts going. The new models are fantastically lethal, less expensive, and both save space and share parts, dramatically simplifying maintenance and logistics.’
Photo credit: U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps