Apache AH-64E helicopter. Photo, courtesy of Leonardo.
Leonardo has been contracted by the U.K. Ministry of Defense (MOD) to provide a defensive aids suite for the British Army’s new fleet of Apache AH-64E helicopters. Under related contracts from the U.K. MOD and Boeing, Leonardo will integrate sensors and countermeasures to ensure that U.K. Apaches remain among the best protected attack helicopters in the world.
Combat helicopters like the Apache fly at relatively low speeds compared to fighter jets and often at low altitudes, so they are vulnerable to a wide range of threats including infrared-guided missiles and anti-tank guided weapons. An integrated defensive aids suite helps protect a helicopter from threats in a joined-up way. A complete system includes sensors to identify threats to the helicopter, countermeasures to defeat these threats and a computer that coordinates the whole system, linking the incoming warnings with protection techniques such as chaff or flares.
Every Apache AH-64E that comes off the production line, regardless of its end user, already has a built-in Leonardo defensive aids suite computer, known as an ‘AGP’ (Aircraft Gateway Processor). This project will see Leonardo take the UK’s Apache defensive aids suite a step further by integrating a number of sensors and countermeasure systems onto the AH-64E to enhance its situational awareness and survivability.
The helicopters’ sensor kit will include Leonardo’s SG200-D radar warning receiver (the U.K.-specific variant of the company’s SEER family) and will reuse a number of systems that are currently on board the Army’s fleet of Apache AH Mk1. These re-used sensors and effectors include Leonardo’s S1223 laser warning receiver, the BAE Systems AN/AAR-57 missile approach warner and the Thales Vicon countermeasure dispensing system. Initially these systems will be taken from spares stores and the remainder will become available when the AH Mk1s retire from service in 2023/24. This means that the British Army will experience a seamless transition to the new helicopter type with both old and new models being equipped with integrated protective suites on operations.
Integration will be conducted by Leonardo in Luton and the complete system will then be installed by Boeing on its AH-64E production line in the United States. All 50 helicopters being procured by the U.K. MOD will be capable of operating with the integrated defensive aids suite.
A key benefit to the British Army of equipping the Apache AH-64E with a U.K. sovereign defensive aids capability is that the MOD will be able to continue to re-program the helicopter’s defensive aids suite to respond to changing battlefield conditions. This is a critical support function known as Electronic Warfare Operational Support, which the U.K. has developed a world-leading capability in at the MoD’s Air Warfare Centre at RAF Waddington, supported by Leonardo at its EWOS facility in nearby Lincoln. Being able to keep the defensive suite up to date without needing to consult another country gives the U.K. essential freedom of operation.