As improvements are rolled out to the Apache AH-64E Guardian today and in the next few years through the Block II development, Col Jeff Hager, the US Army’s Apache project manager said that the process could also be used “as an initial test bed” toward the development of the Army’s planned Future Vertical Lift (FVL) aircraft. The initial FVL model is expected to be a medium platform in two versions: an attack version to replace the Apache and a utility version to replace the Black Hawk. Dates for FVL Medium currently range from 2035-40 and beyond.
Hager said that the Apache could host “emerging technology, to prove it, test it, fly it and use it for FVL later.” He reported that so far there had only been discussions around the subject and that no particular capability/requirement had been targeted. It would have two effects: “to keep the Apache more viable on the battlefield in the progress towards FVL…It could be a great evolutionary step; FVL supports Apache but Apache also supports FVL and overall Army modernisation.”
The Department of Defense has continued its commitment to the Apache with a recent sign-off by acquisition chief Frank Kendall of a new multi-year contract for the period 2017-21. This is for a baseline of 275 Apache E’s for the Army and Foreign Military Sales (FMS) customers. To date 143 AH-64Ea have been fielded and have already flown over 25,000 combat hours.
Hager also highlighted the importance of the addition of Link 16 to Version 4 fielded aircraft. In particular, although the pilots are still learning they can increase fires and increase situational awareness. Focused on software improvements.
“Manned-unmanned teaming (MUM-T) is coming to fruition as hoped,” added Hager. One of the aims of the Aviation Restructuring Initiative (ARI) was to integrate the Apache more with unmanned systems and that was helping due to the AH-64E’s ability to go to Level 4 (control of the UAV, its payload and the receipt of its imagery), where the Delta model could only go to Level 2 (receipt of imagery or data directly from the UAV). However, Hager said that the next generation, MUM-T X, would combine all capabilities for the Apaches to come out in FY18-19: “They will be able to talk to every drone, ISR asset or other capability out there and ship data through the common data link.” The Army currently used Gray Eage and Shadow v2 which both communicate with the Echo model today.
Mark Ballew, director, attack helicopters global sales & marketing, said that two new foreign customers, Indonesia and India, were on contract to be new Apache operators. Deliveries of the eight aircraft ordered by Indonesia around the 2018/19 timeframe. There have also been discussions with the Australian government, who earlier this year announced that it would not modernise its existing Airbus Tiger helicopters past 2025. Other Apache operators such as Singapore may also seek to modernise their existing fleet of AH-64Ds.
Andrew Drwiega, Quad-A, Atlanta, USA