Apache AH-64E flying over the Arizona desert (Boeing photo)
The Boeing AH-64E may receive software fixes to improve the accuracy of the helicopter's Orbital ATK 30 mm gun.
"Operational units have reported that the 30 mm gun is less accurate on the AH-64E than on the legacy AH-64D," according to the FY 2018 annual report by the Pentagon Director of Operational Test and Evaluation.
"The Apache program manager performed root cause analysis and identified three issues: early round inaccuracy (early round off target), dispersion (rounds not consistently on target), and changing bias (over time, shot group drifts from target). The Apache program manager and Boeing have systematically tested multiple subsystems and developed software fixes to be verified in October 2018 testing. The Program Manager expects to field solutions starting in early 2019."
Boeing did not respond to a request for comment on the report by press time on Feb. 5. Last October during a visit by R&WI to the Boeing AH-64 facility in Mesa, Ariz., Shane Openshaw, Boeing's director of Apache programs, said that a more accurate 30 mm gun was among the items requested by U.S. Army crews for the AH-64E along with an easier-to-use L3 manned-unmanned teaming (MUM-T) data link and a decrease in the number of onboard "black boxes."
"The Army should continue to investigate sources of AH-64E 30 mm gun error, implement fixes as appropriate, and demonstrate in side-by-side testing that the AH-64E gun is as accurate as the gun on legacy aircraft," according to the FY 2018 DOT&E report.
The AH-64E is undergoing a version six (V6) update, which includes a number of upgrades, including data-link improvements. Here too DOT&E found shortcomings.
"Developmental testing of Version 6 AH-64E software and major subsystems in 2018 revealed multiple performance deficiencies," according to the DOT&E report. "One or more deficiencies affected the multi-core mission processor, modernized radar interferometer, the fire control radar, the target acquisition designation sight, and manned-unmanned teaming. The program office has since identified fixes for most of the problems. Regression testing on Apache subsystems has begun and early indications are that some of the problems have been resolved."
Boeing has said that the final outbrief on version 6 is planned for June 2019 and that production is to begin in mid-2020.
"The Apache Program Office should verify in regression testing of version 6 AH-64E subsystems that Boeing has corrected the previous deficiencies," DOT&E said. "Following verification of fixes, the Army should conduct FOT&E [follow-on operational test and evaluation] II to demonstrate version 6 Apache capabilities."
Boeing is positioning the Apache to take on near-peer threats, such as Russia and China.
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 in operation in 16 countries, including the United States.