An attack helicopter is a military helicopter specifically designed and built to carry weapons for attacking targets on the ground, such as enemy infantry, armored vehicles and structures. Weapons used on attack helicopters can include autocannons, machine-guns, rockets, and guided missiles such as the AGM-114 Hellfire missile system. Many attack helicopters are also capable of carrying air to air missiles, though mostly for purposes of self-defense.
Today's attack helicopter has two main roles: first, to provide direct and accurate close air support for ground troops, and the second, in the anti tank role to destroy enemy armor concentrations. Attack helicopters are also used to supplement lighter helicopters in the armed scout role.
The AH-1 SuperCobra is a twin-engine attack helicopter based on the US Army's AH-1 Cobra. The twin Cobra family includes the AH-1W SuperCobra. The AH-1W is the backbone of the United States Marine Corps's attack helicopter fleet, but will be replaced in service by the AH-1Z Viper upgrade in the next decade.
The AH-1Z Viper is based on the model of the AH-1W SuperCobra and features several design changes. The AH-1Z's two redesigned wing stubs are longer with each adding a wing-tip station for a missile such as the AIM-9 Sidewinder. Each wing has two other stations for 70 mm (2.75 in) Hydra rocket pods, or AGM-114 Hellfire quad missile launcher.
The AH-64 Apache is a four-blade, twin-engine attack helicopter with reverse-tricycle landing gear, and tandem cockpit for a crew of two. The AH-64 features a nose-mounted sensor suite for target acquisition and night vision systems and is armed with a 30 mm M230 Chain Gun carried between the main landing gear, under the aircraft's belly. The Apache also carries a mixture of AGM-114 Hellfire and Hydra 70 rocket pods on four hardpoints mounted on stub-wing pylons.
The advanced model, the AH-64D Apache Longbow, is equipped with an improved sensor suite, glass cockpit, and weapon systems. The primary modifications to the Apache are the addition of a millimeter-wave Fire Control Radar target acquisition system, the fire-and-forget Longbow Hellfire air-to-ground missile, and a fully-integrated cockpit.