Following an extensive re-vamping of the AH-64D, Boeing has now developed the next-generation of this well-known attack helicopter into the newest AH-64E variant. Richard Meanor, Boeing’s senior manager for international business development at the company’s production plant in Philadelphia provided details of the E-model Apache during MSPO.
The operational capabilities of the platform have been significantly enhanced in the latest variant of the Apache, which Meanor and other Boeing representatives offered up in briefings held in Poland. The Apache is competing against several other competitors for a tender for a new Polish attack helicopter. Other bidders for this contract are the AgustaWestland/Turkish Aerospace Industries T129 and the Airbus Helicopters EC665 Tiger.
“The Apache is a proven system that has seen several wars,” said Meanor. “Moreover, it was designed from its origins to fight a protracted conflict in this part of the world–central Europe. Moreover, it has been purchased more often by those nations that have a near-term or close proximity threat than any other model.”
“The U.S. Army had this system designed with the philosophy that they do not believe in a fair fight,” Meanor explained. “In a fair fight, the good guy has a 50 percent chance of losing, and that is not the way the U.S. Army goes to war.” Currently nations in the region that operate versions of the AH-64 include Egypt, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE. In addition, last year Qatar received U.S. government approval to buy 24 AH64D Block III models.
“Of the major improvements that are featured in the AH-64E, the most important are enhancements to flight performance,” explained Meanor. “The latest versions of the D model have added 800 pounds of weight and the U.S. Army wants to restore the power margins of the original Apache variants,” said Meanor. Therefore, the drive train was modernized and a new transmission has been developed, along with a new engine fit. An entire new set of mission computers were also integrated in to the on-board systems.”
The net effect is that “you get to the fight faster and can stay there longer,” he said. The new engines he referred to are General Electric T700-GE-701Ds that–in combination with the new transmission–significantly enhance performance. Another important addition is a new, lighter set of composite rotor blades.
Beyond these performance enhancements, the new mission computer also allows for easier integration of new systems. This gives the user the option of adding new sensors and/or weapons with a much-reduced cost of integration.
Although 200 E models have been delivered already to the U.S. Army, Boeing continues to work on advanced derivatives to keep the platform relevant out to the year 2060. Right now, there are Apaches operating in the militaries of the U.S. and 13 other nations. There are a total of 1,100 different models in service today. Some 380 of those are in service with forces other than U.S.
Initially, the AH-64E program began with 634 AH-64Ds to be upgraded to AH-64E configuration. Production of 56 new-build AH-64Es will start in the 2019-20 time frame. Boeing said that any current users can apply to the U.S. government for their D models to be upgraded to the E-series configuration. The process “is essentially a re-manufacturing,” explained a Boeing executive. Not only are all of the new systems and new engines being fitted, but there is also a significant enhancement of the airframe, as well.”
Boeing and the other Team Apache partners pointed out several other advantages to the AH-64 over its competitors. Nations that procure the AH-64 automatically have access to the U.S. Army’s worldwide supplier network and to the Army’s planned program modernization path.
Another plus is the equipment fit of the aircraft. The Apache “is the only attack helo in the world with a radar with the capability of the Longbow,” said Meanor. The advantages of this feature were echoed by Lockheed Martin representatives, who told AIN that “the Hellfire missile working in conjunction with the radar makes the AH-64 an incredibly powerful close-air support platform, particularly when you consider that this allows the pilot to ‘ripple-fire’ the Hellfire against multiple targets.”
A decision by Poland, potentially one of the first users of the AH-64E, is expected sometime in early 2016. “The Apache is more than just a tactical asset to a nation’s armed forces,” said Meanor. “It is a deterrent against enemy attack. The Poles know it, and they live in a dangerous neighborhood, which is why they have demonstrated such high interest in the AH-64E.”