Boeing Plans Rollout of First Apache Block III

 - October 17, 2011, 8:55 AM
AH-64D Block II Apache maneuvers over Arizona desert earlier this year. Boeing will roll out the first Apache Block III in November. (Photo: Bill Carey)

Boeing plans a November 2 rollout ceremony in Mesa, Ariz., for the first upgraded AH-64D Apache Block III destined for the U.S. Army. Ten of the latest Apaches are advancing through production, David Koopersmith, Boeing vice president of attack helicopter programs, said October 10 during a briefing at the Association of the U.S. Army annual meeting in Washington, D.C.

Boeing was awarded a $247 million contract last October to begin low-rate initial production (LRIP) of the Apache Block III. The LRIP phase covers 51 aircraft. The Army plans to acquire a total of 690 Apache Block IIIs through 2027, most of them remanufactured Block Is and IIs, but with 56 newly built aircraft to replace training and combat losses. The older Apaches are disassembled by Science Engineering Services near Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Ala., and then shipped to the Boeing Global Strike facility in Mesa.

The Block III upgrade features improved GE Aviation T700-GE-701D engines with enhanced digital electronic engine control units, improved drive system and transmission, composite rotor blades and extended-range fire-control radar and missiles. The upgrade introduces Level 3 and 4 control of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), including the RQ-7 Shadow and their sensor payloads. Level 3 is control of the UAS sensor payload; Level 4 enables an Apache crewman to direct the UAS to desired locations by entering waypoints to its flight plan. The copilot-gunner seated in the front seat will perform these functions with the same handgrips used for other sensors, monitoring the UAS location and own-ship position on a tactical situation display.

The data link electronics and antenna for UAS control, known as the UAS tactical common datalink assembly (UTA), is contained in the doughnut-shaped, mast-mounted radome that houses the Apache Longbow fire-control radar (FCS). Col. Shane Openshaw, Apache program manager, said 24-aircraft brigades will have nine helicopters equipped with the FCS, nine with UTA and six “vanilla” aircraft. The first Block III unit equipped will be at Fort Riley, Kan., in June 2012. The aircraft will enter service in 2013.

While the Apache Block III is driving the interoperability standard for Level 3 and 4 UAS control, it did not participate in the Manned Unmanned Systems Integration Concept exercise at Dugway Proving Ground, Utah, in mid-September. “It was my decision, from the perspective of mitigating risk, not to peel off a test asset to support that exercise,” Openshaw said.