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US Army Prepares for Full-Rate AH-64E Production

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This article first appeared in Aerospace Daily & Defense Report.

The U.S. Army has officially designated the newest version of its Apache helicopter the E model, and service officials are planning to issue a contract to Boeing to begin full-rate production.

The full-rate production decision issued in August is “probably the single largest decision for this program since Block Is and Block IIs went into production,” says Col. Jeff Hager, the Army’s Apache project manager. The forthcoming contract will include 48 aircraft per year for the U.S. Army for two years as well as 48 foreign sales orders. The anticipated production rate will be four per month for the Army with three monthly for international customers during full-rate production. The Army plans to buy 690 total.

However, the specter of sequestration -- mandated spending cuts set to take place Jan. 1 if the government does not strike a debt-reduction deal -- has prompted Hager to begin examining various production rates as Apache would likely suffer a reduction along with other defense projects.

The first AH-64E was delivered to the Army last November, and production has ramped up since to about three deliveries per month in Boeing’s Mesa, Ariz., factory, says David Koopersmith, Boeing’s vice president of attack helicopters. The team briefed reporters on the status of the program at this week’s annual Association of the U.S. Army conference here.

International interest is growing. The first of Taiwan’s 30 E models was delivered and training is set to commence for its pilots and crews next month. The Army has notified Congress of the potential sale of eight Es to Indonesia, 24 to Qatar and 22 for India. These are all proposed foreign military sales except for India, which is requesting a “hybrid” deal that will allow for Boeing to support the helicopters for India. There are not direct commercial sales yet, Koopersmith says.

South Korea is set to downselect later this year for its requirement of 36 attack helicopters. This will be the first competition in which the two new American attack helos -- the AH-64E and AH-1Z (developed by the Marine Corps and Bell Helicopters) -- will go head to head. They are competing against the AgustaWestland/Turkish Aerospace Industries T-129.

During testing last year, operators in the E model were able to counter realistic air defense threats in demonstrations at Naval Air Station China Lake, Calif., says Col. John Lynch, attack helicopter manager at Army Training and Doctrine Command. He says the helicopters were able to maintain their positions and maneuver as needed and had power margin while the Block II Apaches were “shot down” in similar exercises. “The Block III absolutely frustrated these folks that operate these [air defense] systems,” he says.

The added power is due in part to improved composite main rotor blades that are six inches longer and feature a new tip design for improved aerodynamic performance as well as improved General Electric T700-GE-701D engines, Koopersmith says.

Meanwhile, production is slowing on the Block II line at Boeing, and the last Army AH-64A has been inducted on the production line for conversion. Improvements are still being fielded to the AH-64Ds flying in the field, though. Recently, the Army deployed the ground-fire acquisition system (GFAS) with one battalion. The system allows for pilots to see where hostile fire is originating and slews the sight system to that point of origin. This allows for the crew to view the hostiles and engage if needed. The system includes two infrared sensors mounted on the wingtips of the Apache; they are optimized to detect a specific wavelength of energy emitted when a bullet exists a muzzle, optimizing it against small-arms fire, though it also will detect missile firings.

Credit: Boeing

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