Lockheed Martin continues to upgrade its modernized target acquisition designation sight/pilot night-vision sensor (M-TADS/PNVS) for the AH-64 Apache, an electro-optical fire-control system that this year surpassed one million flight hours on the attack helicopter.
This summer, the company was in the final stages of integrating a new modernized day sensor assembly (M-DSA) in the nose-mounted sensor suite, the goal being to conduct a first flight in January. The M-DSA replaces the daylight sensor assembly in the lower M-TADS turret, which serves for targeting, with a high-definition, color-capable camera with improved field of view. It incorporates updated laser rangefinder/designator and laser spot tracker components. The U.S. Army plans to equip its first unit with the new sensor assembly in Fiscal Year 2018.
According to Lockheed Martin (Stand 1975, Static A19/A20), the M-TADS/PNVS sensor suite, first fielded in 2005 by the U.S. Army’s 1-82nd attack reconnaissance battalion, improves system performance and reliability over the Apache’s original TADS system by more than 150 percent and decreases maintenance actions by about 60 percent. The company claims the modernized system will save nearly $1 billion in operation and support costs over its 40-year lifespan.
The 1-82nd deployed to Iraq with M-TADS/PNVS-equipped Apaches in 2006. In 2007, the Army initiated a performance-based logistics contract for system components that has achieved a 95-percent supply availability rate.
“From our perspective, it’s given us almost a 10-times increase in reliability,” said Lt. Col. Steve Van Riper, U.S. Army project manager for Apache sensors. “That really was what M-TADS was about in the beginning; it was really focused on reliability improvement [and] obsolescence mitigation. But as a second-order effect, we also gained all these performance advantages.”
The M-DSA sensor will be introduced in the sixth production lot of upgraded AH-64Es, formerly called Block III Apaches, delivered to the U.S. Army from around 2017. 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.
Boeing had delivered more than 40 AH-64Es as of this summer; the program calls for 690 mostly remanufactured helicopters through 2027. The 1-229th Attack Reconnaissance Battalion (ARB), based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state, was the first unit equipped with AH-64Es in February, followed by the 1-25th ARB at Fort Carson, Colorado.
The 1-229th will deploy to Afghanistan with the AH-64Es next spring, said Col. Jeff Hager, the U.S. Army’s Apache project manager. Some of those helicopters will be equipped with a mast-mounted UAS tactical datalink assembly supplied by the Longbow LLC joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman. The UTC, which is contained in a doughnut-shaped radome identical to the radome that houses the Longbow fire-control radar, enables Apache pilots to control the MQ-1C Gray Eagle unmanned aircraft.
Dave Belvin, Lockheed Martin director of Apache programs, declared that MTADS-PNVS became a “game changer” for the U.S. Army when it was introduced, providing Apache pilots with greater resolution to engage targets from longer standoff ranges. “The system has earned the trust of the soldiers who fly it and the crew chiefs who maintain it,” he said.
Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control was working on its eighth production lot and had delivered more than 1,200 M-TADS/PNVS systems to the U.S. Army and 12 international Apache customers. The company performs electronics assembly in Ocala, Florida, while final assembly takes place in Orlando.
The U.S. Army commemorated one million flight hours of service by the M-TADS/PNVS system, most of it during combat tours, at a ceremony held at the Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control facility in Orlando on August 8. “That is no small feat,” Hager told assembled employees and soldiers. “Through countless engagements scattered throughout Iraq and Afghanistan, the system provides a combat-proven advantage over the enemy.”
Four days later, Lockheed Martin announced a $223 million contract to provide 36 M-TADS/PNVS systems and spares for AH-64Es destined for the Republic of Korea army, demonstrating a further market for foreign military sales.