The U.S. Army gave the go-ahead for full-rate production of the Block III version of the Boeing Apache attack helicopter, which has been redesignated AH-64E. Potential export orders could add as many as 100 new airframes in the next few years. The AH-64E offers several improvements, including greater power, composite main rotor blades, net-centric communications, defensive system enhancements, modernized target acquisition designation sight (M-TADS), automated target detection and classification, and the ability to control UAVs. “We just took the most important decision in the AH-64 program since the original Block 1 and II,” said Col. Jeff Hager, the Army’s Apache project manager. The Army plans to buy 48 aircraft in each of the next several years, so that the ultimate production total reaches 690.
Boeing will deliver 29 Block IIIs this year under previous contracts, including five for FMS. A separate production line at the company’s Mesa, Ariz. facility continues to remanufacture Block II airframes as well as the last Block II new-builds for the Army, and for FMS.
Near-term international prospects include India, where a hybrid FMS/commercial contract for 22 is awaited, although AIN understands that another 22 might eventually be acquired; Korea, where the AH-64E is competing against the AgustaWestland/TAI T-129 and the Bell AH-1Z for a 36-aircraft order; and Qatar, which may buy 24. In addition, U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton said recently that Indonesia will be cleared to receive an offer. The first of up to 30 for Taiwan was delivered last May, for initial crew training in the U.S.
Col. John Lynch, the Army’s TRADOC capability manager, said that Apache helicopters in Afghanistan are achieving an 80-percent readiness rate. Recent enhancements include Link 16; the MUMTE, which provides sensor feeds from UAVs; and the ground fire acquisition system (GFAS), which gives the crew a 360-degree view of incoming fire, including that from small arms, by slaving the helicopter’s sensors to the source.
Dave Koopersmith, Boeing vice president for attack helicopters, said that a dialog has been started with the 10 earlier international customers about a remanufacture program that, he said, offers “incredible value.”