NASHVILLE, Tennessee -- The U.S. Army has deployed its first unit equipped with the new AH-64E Apache attack helicopter to Afghanistan, according to the officer in charge of the acquisition effort.
The 1st-229th Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington, deployed to Afghanistan in March with two dozen of the latest models of the choppers, according to Col. Jeff Hager, who manages the Apache upgrade program.
"In March of this year, which is a big plus for us, the 1st of the 229th was the first unit equipped [and] they deployed," he said during an interview with reporters on Monday here at the Army Aviation Association of America's annual conference, known as Quad A. "We've got a 24 ship-set of AH-64 Echoes conducting combat operations as we speak in Afghanistan and they're doing very good."
The service has a total of about 100 of the Boeing Co.-made helicopters in Afghanistan, mostly the D version.
The E variant features more fuel-efficient engines, composite rotor blades and digital communications systems. It also includes an enhanced targeting system made by Lockheed Martin Corp.
The so-called Modernized Target Acquisition Designation Sight/Pilot Night Vision Sensor, or M-TADS/PNVS system, also called "Arrowhead," is designed to give pilots better resolution and situational awareness of the battlefield. Thanks in part to the technology, the helicopter's 30mm cannon fires "like a laser," Hager said, citing feedback from the field.
One commander put it this way: "The big E has struck and the enemy has noticed," said Mike Burke, a director of business development at Boeing and a retired brigadier general.
The Army plans to buy a total of about 700 Apache AH-64E helicopters. The vast majority of them will be re-manufactured, or refurbished, aircraft. The service in March awarded the Chicago-based aerospace giant with a $1.2 billion contract for at least 72 helicopters as part of the first round of full-rate production, according to a March 4 announcement from the Pentagon.
On a calendar-year basis, the agreement calls for 82 helicopters, including 40 aircraft in 2014 and 42 aircraft in 2015, according to John Schibler, Boeing's chief engineer for attack programs.
The company also plans to sell the Echo model abroad, Schibler said. South Korea plans to buy 36 of the helicopters, Indonesia may buy eight and India is negotiating a possible order, he said.