Military

Follow-on to AH-64E Needed to Bridge Gap with Future Vertical Lift

By Frank Wolfe | October 24, 2018
Send Feedback | @fwolfe18

U.S. Army AH-64E Apache pilots assigned to Task Force Griffin, 16th Combat Aviation Brigade, 7th Infantry Division land for fuel in Kunduz, Afghanistan, May 31, 2017. The Griffins are working hard to support U.S. Forces Afghanistan as part of Operation Freedom's Sentinel and Resolute Support Mission.

U.S. Army AH-64E Apache pilots land for fuel. File photo

While the U.S. Army plans to have the AH-64 Apache attack helicopter in its formations until 2050 or 2060, Boeing officials believe that the Army will require a follow-on to the AH-64E to bridge the gap with the service's Future Vertical Lift program.

"Even using the most aggressive plan they have to replace that fleet with something of the Future Vertical Lift family, there will have to be another evolution of some sort to keep the aircraft sustainable, ready and relevant to support the warfight out to that time frame," Shane Openshaw, Boeing's director of Apache programs and a former Army Apache and Black Hawk pilot, told R&WI Oct. 24 at Boeing's Apache facility in Mesa, Arizona.

Advertisement

"If you look at what kind of capabilities were incorporated as the Apache evolved from an A to a D and the D to an E, we're going to be thinking along the same lines," he said. "You refresh the technology in the cockpit — what's gone on with digital avionics and displays and sensors/countermeasures, you can incorporate that in a different way. You've got a revolution in composite manufacturing technologies that are being incorporated in the fuselage, rotor blades, advancements in radar and a lighter, faster, smaller kind of approach."

The design intent would be to buy back weight to increase the aircraft's capabilities.

It is so far unclear whether the Army will solely rely on depot maintenance, overhauls and repairs to sustain the AH-64 until 2050 or 2060 or whether the service will opt for an AH-64E follow-on, or a mix of both strategies.

The U.S. Army operates 514 D-model and 235 E-model Apaches, while there are more than 120 E models in other countries. There are 1,170 Apaches sin operation in 16 countries, including the U.S. The AH-64E is undergoing a version six (V6) update, with the final outbrief planned for June 2019 and production to begin mid-2020.

While the Army no longer has any of its 821 A models, Greece and Israel do, and the latter has intermittently considered upgrading its fleet.

"We have at least 10 more in the pipeline now," Openshaw said of the number of foreign nations considering Apache buys. "Some are window shoppers. Some are getting serious. They're justifying the requirement to those who hold the purse strings, those who make decisions to support their respective departments of defense."

Receive the latest rotorcraft news right to your inbox