The U.S. Army is engineering its Apache AH-64 attack helicopters with additional avionics, radar and sensor technology to perform better in maritime environments, service officials said Monday at the Association of the United States Army's Annual Meeting and Exposition in Washington D.C.
“We’re looking at sensor upgrades to the fire control radar and adding a maritime feature to the Apache. We want to extend the radar and broaden its bandwidth to pick up things in a littoral (shallow water) environment and detect small ships in the water,” said Army Col. Jeff Hager, Apache program manager.
The Army plans to test these and other upgrades in 2017 in order to keep the attack helicopter platform current into the 2050s, Army and Boeing officials said.
Part of the Pentagon’s rebalance to the Pacific involves a greater use of land and sea-based assets in the region, underscoring the need for the Army to strengthen its expeditionary capabilities. The Army has conducted multiple exercises with the Navy wherein they landed Army helicopters on Navy ships in order to prepare for these type of contingencies.
Additional upgrades will include software upgrades and improvements to the mission processor, Hager explained.
“The software-based radar improvements will allow crew members to see maritime littoral targets and be able to pick targets out at sea like they do on land,” he added.
The upgrades will also give the Apache the ability to better communicate with assets from other services through a connection with LINK 16, a digital data link used widely by the Air Force and Navy.
“This does give the crew members the ability to see joint assets, so everybody see the same combined aerial picture that we have in the Air Force and Navy,” Hager added.
The first AH-64E Block III Apaches are now returning from combat service in Afghanistan, after deploying this past September. While explaining the newer, high-tech Block III Apache received favorable reviews from crew members and commanders, Hager said the Army will soon begin work on a formal after action review of the aircraft’s combat performance.
The Block III Apaches are built with composite main rotor blades, improved transmission and next-generation avionics.
In addition, the AH-64E helicopters are configured with what’s called Level IV Manned-Unmanned teaming, a technology which gives Apache crews the ability to view live feeds from nearby UAS and also control the sensor payload, Hager explained.
“Adding a hunter-killer capability with manned-unmanned teaming increases the range with UAS,” Hager explained.