Recently appointed Apache program Col. Jeff Hager confirmed during last week’s AUSA—the U.S. Army’s annual gathering in Washington, D.C.—that the Apache AH-64 Block III attack helicopter would now be officially known as the AH-64E (Echo).
During a briefing, Hager pointed to the Aug. 9, 2012 decision by the Defense Acquisition Board (DAB) to go to full rate production, which he said secured the continued transformation of the Apache into an all Delta and Echo model fleet over the coming years. “This is the single largest decision since Block Is and IIs went into production,” he said, adding that the Acquisition Category shift to a ACAT-C from ACAT-D was also a landmark in the program’s maturity.
David Koopersmith, Boeing vice president of attack helicopter programs, stated that the pace of delivering Apache AH-64Es had been accelerated to three per month at the production facility in Mesa, Ariz. To date Boeing has delivered 24 AH-64Es to the U.S. Army and five to foreign military sales (FMS) customers. He continued that the Apache Block II line was now producing both remodeled Alpha to Delta variants (with the last U.S. Army Alpha now in the system) and new-build helicopters for the Army as well as FMS customers. During the current calendar year Boeing would deliver 70 such aircraft, which was “slightly ahead” of their plan.
Improvements to the Apache’s capability were continuous, said Col. Hager. The mission system core processors will be reduced from six to two (and two is only for redundancy). The wiring inside the aircraft has been reduced from 11 to seven miles (which is a weight savings as well).
The modernized target acquisition designation sight (M-TADS) will in the future have a color day sight instead of the current monochrome green/grey.
A ground fire acquisition system (GFAS)—shown previously at the Army Aviation Association convention (Quad-A) in April 2012—has been tested in combat over the last couple of months by 1/101st Airborne in Afghanistan. Hager described GFAS as presenting “a 360-degree half bowl beneath the aircraft that lets the aircrew know the direction from which they are taking fire, from 5.56mm rounds to major ground-to-air missile system.” The GFAS bolts onto the two wingtips and the sound system gives the aircrew not only a good indication of where the shot is coming from, but in doing so means that they in turn can slave their sights and weapons onto the threat to counter it.
Manned unmanned teaming (MUM-T) is another capability that is being woven into the Apache’s repertoire: “We get back reports from the field that it’s like having a third person in the cockpit—a combat multiplier—there’s another set of eyes that goes a few kilometers in front of you that can watch different sites,” said Hager. “Then grab that data and beam it down to the ground. We get nothing but accolades every time we send those systems into the fight and we are outfitting several Block II equipped battalions now.”
Training has revealed the true capability of MUM-T, added Col. John Lynch, Army TRADOC capability manager: “A great example of MUM-T is when you can sit on the ramp during your power up sequence 25 miles from the national training center watching operational feeds from the unmanned aerial system—that’s very good situational awareness before you get to where you are needed.” The army is still refining the tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) that this teaming offers.
Boeing has delivered the first international AH-64E (codenamed Sky Eagle) to the Taiwanese Army (the first of 30) although the aircraft will remain in Mesa ready for aircrew training, which will begin in November. Boeing is also hopeful for the completion of AH-64E orders for the following international customers: 24 for Qatar; eight for Indonesia; 36 for Korea and 22 for India (the Indian Ministry of Defense purchase would comprise a direct order with Boeing alongside an FMS sale).
Col. Lynch concluded that the full-rate production would see the AH-64E through toward the transition of the rotary force into the concept of Future Vertical Lift (FVL).
Related: Attack Helicopter News