AH-1Z Viper Attack Helicopters Arrive In Czech Republic

The two AH-1Z Vipers are the first of twenty H-1 series helicopters the U.S. is delivering to the Czech Republic.

byOliver Parken|
Delivery of AH-1Z attach helicopters to the Czech Republic
Czech MoD


The first two new U.S.-made AH-1Z Viper attack helicopters for the Czech Republic have been delivered to the country. Their arrival comes as the Czech Republic’s aging Soviet-era Mi-24/Mi-35 attack helicopters are set to be retired from service in September, with four of these already having been delivered to Ukraine, and more set to follow.

Delivery of the AH-1Zs also comes amid a broader resurgence in interest in modern attack helicopters among NATO’s Eastern European members in response to the conflict in Ukraine — with the possible delivery of more H-1 series helicopters to the region in the near term. 

According to the Czech Republic’s Ministry of Defense, the 22nd Helicopter Air Force Base, which is located in Náměšť nad Oslavou, in the southeast of the country, received the helicopters on July 26.

By mid-September, the base will receive two more Vipers and the first two UH-1Y Venom utility helicopters also being delivered by the U.S. In total, the Czech Army's helicopter force will eventually receive 20 H-1 series helicopters — 10 AH-1Zs and 10 UH-1Ys. Hellfire and Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System (APKWS) air-to-ground guided weapons, unguided rockets, and ammunition for cannons and machine guns, will also be provided.  

The two AH-1Zs were transported from the United States to the Czech Republic via a C-17 Globemaster III cargo plane. According to the Czech MoD, a large group of American specialists also arrived with the helicopters. Working alongside Czech personnel, they will reassemble the Vipers and start to fly them in the next two weeks.

Czech MoD
Czech MoD
Czech MoD

“Delivery of the first American [AH-1Z Viper] helicopters is a significant moment for the modernization of the [Czech] military, it moves the helicopter air force into the 21st century. In this way, we are getting rid of our dependence on Russian technology and switching to a modern Western platform supplied by an important ally,” Jana Černochová, the Czech Republic’s Minister of Defense, said of the news.

Czech MoD
Czech MoD
Czech MoD

In August, a mobile training team will arrive from the U.S. The team will train Czech personnel of the 22nd Helicopter Air Force Base on how to operate its new AH-1Zs, starting September 1. Under the supervision of the training team, courses will continue for Czech pilots at the base for the next two years, until they have fully mastered the system of operation and maintenance of the helicopters, according to the Czech MoD.

Czech MoD
Czech MoD
Czech MoD
Czech MoD
Czech MoD
Czech MoD

It should be noted that pilots from the 22nd Helicopter Air Force Base have already been training on the H-1 system for seven months at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, as per the Czech MoD.

“The H-1 system will fundamentally increase the firing capabilities of the helicopter air force of the Czech Armed Forces, especially with precision-guided ammunition that can be used by both helicopters of the system,” according to Lt. Gen. Karel Řehka, Chief of the General Staff of the Czech Republic Armed Forces.

Bell’s H-1 series of helicopters has roots dating back to the 1950s. As we’ve noted in the past, the company has strived to keep the UH-1 and AH-1 designs as common as possible in order to make the fielding, maintenance, and spare parts stocking for both variants easier.  

A U.S. Marine Corps UH-1Y Venom helicopter, assigned to Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron One, descends in an extraction exercise, at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, California, April 14, 2023. USMC

Indeed, the most modern versions of the H-1 helicopters — the AH-1Z and UH-1Y — share 85 percent of their parts, mostly in terms of powertrain, sub-systems, and to a degree, avionics. In recent years, the Marine Corps’ AH-1 helicopters have had to fight for operational significance, with the last of the service’s AH-1Zs rolling off Bell’s assembly line in Amarillo, Texas, in November of 2022. A number of the relatively new helicopters have already been put into storage due to changing priorities within the Marine Corps.

Plans for the delivery of the H-1s to the Czech Republic have been in the pipeline for some time. Back in 2017, the U.S. State Department approved the sale of a number of UH-1Ys — the Czech Republic requested 12 — and related equipment for the country, at an estimated cost of $575 million. Then, in 2019, the department approved the sale of four AH-1Zs and related equipment, at an estimated cost of $205 million. The Czech government chose to purchase the four AH-1Zs and eight UH-1Ys, manufactured as new by Bell, for a total of $623 million in August of the same year.

A U.S. Marine Corps AH-1Z Viper with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 469 fires at a target during Resolute Dragon 22 at Yausubetsu Maneuver Area, Hokkaido, Japan, Oct. 6, 2022. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Lorenzo Ducato

Following the announcement that the Czech Republic would be donating an unspecified number of its Mi-24/Mi-35 attack helicopters to Ukraine in May 2022, the United States offered an additional eight H-1s to the Czech Army free of charge, bar the costs of transfer and upgrades, in August 2022. That offer included six AH-1Z a two UH-1Ys. The implementation of the agreement brought the total number of sold and donated H-1s by the U.S. to the Czech Republic to 20; 10 of each variant.

The Czech Republic has since offered more Mi-24/Mi-35 attack helicopters to Ukraine, although the final number has not been disclosed. As of summer 2022, eight Mi-24/35s were operating with the Czech 221st Helicopter Squadron. That figure does not include the first two Mi-35s that were sent to Ukraine.

There has also been suggestion that the Czech Republic — which has recently invested in the refurbishment and modernization of its incoming H-1 fleet — may look to purchase additional H-1s, too, which could be made available via foreign military sale

Of course, the U.S.'s decision to sell a number of its H-1s comes amid a broader resurgence of attack helicopter interest in Eastern Europe in response to the ongoing war in Ukraine. Delivering various kinds of attack helicopters to Europe has also been seen as critical to balancing out depleted numbers of older Soviet systems donated to Ukraine by NATO powers. Back in September 2022, Poland announced it was considering procuring as many as 96 Boeing AH-64E Apache attack helicopters to replace its aging fleet of Cold War-era Mi-24s. Around a dozen of Poland’s Mi-24s were recently sent to Kyiv, according to the Wall Street Journal

AH-1Z and UH-Y are often seen working together as a team. Bell

Moreover, Slovakia, which has given Ukraine MiG-29 fighter jets, has been offered 12 new AH-1Zs by the United States as compensation for the donation. That offer would see Slovakia pay $340 million for a deal worth about $1 billion, alongside the delivery of 500 AGM-114 Hellfire II missiles as well as training on the helicopters.

Such is the interest in attack helicopters in Europe, and the U.S. commitment to supplying Bell H-1 series helicopters, that Bell Textron has supposedly made an offer to the German government to “relocate the entire production to Germany” if the country chooses the Viper to replace its Tiger attack helicopters. Germany is set to retire its Tigers by 2038.

Given the demands for attack helicopters in the region amid the ongoing war in Ukraine, it’s likely the AH-1Zs for the Czech Republic will not be the last of their kind to be delivered to a European nation. And there is also the question of Ukraine itself. The AH-1Z has been floated in the past as a possible platform for reequipping its Soviet-era attack helicopter fleet.

The war in Ukraine, and the dramatic geopolitical shift that went with it, has also made it very challenging to support Russian aircraft types. Beyond sanctions, Russia is consuming massive amounts of spare parts and logistical capacity to keep its own fleets in the fight. This has left many legacy users of these aircraft scrambling for replacements. This has not gone unnoticed by U.S. helicopter manufacturers. The business opportunities spurred by this situation could be highly lucrative in Europe and elsewhere, such as Africa.

So, the iconic H-1/AH-1 team may still have a bright future ahead of it nearly six decades after they began to grace the skies together.

Contact the author: oliver@thewarzone.com