The development program for the U.S. Army’s latest Apache AH-64E attack helicopter is being planned to ensure that the aircraft will be fit for maritime operations, said Colonel Jeffrey Hager, U.S. Army attack helicopter project manager.
“We need to extend the radar and broaden the bandwidth to pick up small and medium ships in various sea states,” Hager explained. He added that the main short to medium term future changes would be to the mission processor to allow it to accommodate the new software.
There are no current plans to further improve the Apache airframe itself. Hager pointed out that the second unit equipped with the latest Apache AH-64E Guardian, the 1-25th Aviation Regiment, was conducting the maritime trials which have been ongoing with the Navy’s Pacific command during the summer. The Army is working up its maritime deployment capability but this was currently at a first stage of a “crawl, walk, run” process, he stated. There could be unit level approaches to corrosion prevention.
With the first unit equipped – the 1-229th Attack Reconnaissance Battalion (Tiger Sharks) are now beginning to return from Afghanistan as part of the United States’ drawdown of forces in that country, both Army and Boeing personnel were eager to talk to the unit’s crewmen about their experiences and perceptions of the latest version of the Apache. This takes the form of after action reviews (AAR), which are conducted with all U.S. Army units flying Apache and Chinook helicopters that return from operational deployment.
Hager reported that they had sustained a readiness rate of 88 percent while deployed to Afghanistan during the period mid-May through to mid-September 2014. The unit has already logged more than 7,500 combat flying hours out of a total of more than 23,000 flying hours for the AH-64E.
Boeing is looking to secure another multi-year contract from FY-17 onwards and believes it can offer further savings of around 10 percent. During that period around 48 AH-64Es will be produced for the U.S. Army annually.
“We still have our procurement objective of 690 AH-64E Apache,” confirmed Hager. Currently, they are waiting for the production cut-in review (PCR) in December before retrofitting Link 16 into the Apaches Echo models already fielded, assuming success is reported from the Follow-on Operational Test & Evaluation (FOT&E) trials conducted in August.
Tim Sassenrath, vice president rotorcraft support, said that they continued to reduce the lifecycle costs of the aircraft, reducing the cost of components through Performance Based Logistics (PBL). “We have seen costs reduced by 24 percent through the life of the PBL which is ten years so far,” he said. “In PBL3 we will include another 100 components and there are a current 396 parts on the contract.”