Pilots from 159th CAB, 101st Airborne Division, land an Apache helicopter at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, as the sun sets behind the mountains. Photo by Chief Warrant Officer 2 George Chino
An easier-to-use L3 manned-unmanned teaming (MUM-T) data link, a more accurate Orbital ATK 30-mm gun and a decrease in the number of onboard "black boxes" are among the items that U.S. Army crews have requested for the Boeing AH-64E attack helicopters, according to Shane Openshaw, Boeing's director of Apache programs.
The company said it has listened and is heeding such concerns. "We're always tracking maintainability and reliability," Openshaw, a former Army Apache and Black Hawk pilot, told R&WI Oct. 24 at Boeing's Apache facility in Mesa, Arizona.
The AH-64E is undergoing a version six (V6) update, which includes a number of upgrades, including data-link improvements. The final outbrief is planned for June 2019 and production to begin mid-2020.
Boeing is positioning the Apache to take on near-peer threats, such as Russia and China.
"The Apache is still world class in its capabilities, but there are other cops that are chasing it from an attack helicopter perspective. That's generally not our threat," Openshaw said.
"If you take the aircraft that's been flying in Afghanistan and Iraq and supporting the war against terrorists since the early 2000s and put that aircraft into a near-peer threat environment, pick the country, it's not going to do as well there as it would have done 10 years ago for the reasons that technologies in anti-aircraft capabilities grow," he said. "The world hasn't been blind watching what these things do so there's going to be a lot of effort put in to figuring out how to beat those when it comes face to face with them on the battlefield. The high-threat environment in a near peer world, we need to do something. That's kind of how we're positioning ourselves."
In addition, while the U.S. Army plans to have the AH-64 Apache 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.
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.