According to the U.S. Special Operation Command’s (USSOCOM) acquisition executive, James Smith, the unit’s Little Bird helicopters might be experiencing their final years as America’s light special operations helicopters.
Smith made the statement during the NDIA Special Operations/Low-Intensity Conflict Symposium, which took place last February. He indicated that the most likely replacement for the venerable Little Bird would be a variant of the U.S. Army’s Future Vertical Lift (FVL) Capability Set 1. The FVL program aims to upgrade the Army’s light, medium, and heavy-lift helicopters.
SOCOM will make its final decision in 2024. It will either be to further upgrade the Little Bird or to replace it with a variant from the FVL program. By that point, however, the Little Bird fleet will have been operating continuously for many years under extreme combat conditions. It seems more likely, then, that SOCOM will want to procure a new helicopter rather than upgrade an old one.
A few years ago, SOCOM’s Little Bird fleet underwent a modernization and upgrade program dubbed the Mission Enhanced Little Bird (MELB) program. The MELB upgraded the previous version (AH-6J and MH-6J) by adding an additional blade to the craft’s main rotor (bringing the total number of blades to six), improving the tail rotor drive system and tail boom, enlarging the aft doors of the cabin to allow for easier egress of operators, and enhancing its landing gear.