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Apache’s Upgraded Targeting Sensors Reach One Million Flight Hours
By Dan Parsons



In just eight years since its fielding, an updated targeting sensor system for the Apache attack helicopter has guided Army aviators through one million flight hours, most of which were performed under fire in Iraq and Afghanistan.
 
“This system has been touted as a ‘game changer’ for our aviators and soldiers on the ground,” Col. Jeff Hager, U.S. Army project manager for Apache Attack Helicopters, told reporters during an Aug. 8 conference call. “It has provided the Army with unprecedented situational awareness and targeting ability.”
 
The modernized target acquisition designation sight, or, M-TADS, was first fielded in 2005 as an evolutionary upgrade to the legacy sensor suite, simply called TADS. That system is housed with the pilot night vision sensor — also included in the upgrade package — in a swiveling ball under the nose of the aircraft that mimics the movements of the pilot’s head as he scans the environment.

M-TADS/PNVS is the advanced electro-optical fire control system for the AH-64 D/E Apache. Together, the systems provide Apache pilots with long-range, precision engagement and control capabilities during the day, at night and in adverse weather conditions. Considered the “eyes” of the Apache, the systems feed full-motion video and targeting data to the cockpit viewing screens and into the small screen over the pilot’s right eye.
 
Hager said the milestone was “no small feat” considering it was only three years ago that the Army had taken delivery of its 1,000th M-TADS system.

Lockheed Martin has delivered 1,300 M-TADS/PNVS systems to the Army and 12 international customers. Assembly and installation is performed at Lockheed’s facilities in Ocala and Orlando, Fla.
 
Lockheed is in the midst of its eighth production block of M-TADS. Additional sales to the Army and overseas customers is expected, said Dave Belvin, director of Apache programs at Lockheed’s Missiles and Fire Control division.
 
Lt. Col.. Steve Van Riper, the army’s project manager for Apache sensors, said nearly all of the Army’s Apaches are outfitted with the updated targeting system.

“We are very close to completing our total Army force,” Van Riper said.
 
M-TADS has given Army aviators a 10-fold increase in operational reliability over legacy systems, he said. Streamlining field maintenance saves nearly $1 billion in operation and support costs over the 40-year life of the system.
 
M-TADS comes standard on the Army’s latest version of the Apache, the Block III, of which 41 have been delivered to date. Though not in theater yet, a unit of the 229th Attack Reconnaissance Battalion stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., is scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan with the Block III Apache in the third quarter of fiscal year 2014, Hager said.

Hager said the Apache program absorbed a 9 percent cut to its budget in the current fiscal year as a result of sequestration. He declined to comment on what the future might hold.
 
“At this time, there is no way to tell if there is any cumulative effect that would cause anything to slip to the right ,” Hager said. “Currently we’re on track to achieve our objectives. I don’t want to speculate because we don’t know what will happen in the next fiscal year.”
 
The Obama administration plans to carve $1.2 billion over five years from programs to rebuild and upgrade the Apache.

The Army is seeking $813 million for Apache in fiscal year 2014. That would fund 42 remanufactured Block III aircraft, Hager said during a press conference at the Army Aviation Association of America’s annual exposition in April.
 
Full-rate production is scheduled to begin in fiscal year 2014 and run through fiscal 2027 to reach the 690 aircraft goal. They will be a combination of remanufactured and new aircraft. Fifty-six of the 690 will be truly “new-build” aircraft requiring all new parts and components, but will not be purchased until 2018 at the soonest as a result of a $1.2 billion cut to the program.
 
Block II Apache, designated Charlie and Delta models, will have a further upgrade in the modernized data sensor assembly, or M-DSA, Van Riper said. The Army is in the final stages of integrating that system, which will bring high-definition, color full-motion video into the cockpit in dash- and helmet-mounted displays.
 
That upgrade has three phases: installation of a modern laser range finder, integration of HD video systems and the insertion of a training laser on certain aircraft, he said.

The first M-DSA system is scheduled for installation in November with a first flight scheduled for January 2014. The Army plans to field a M-DSA equipped Apache sometime in fiscal year 2018, after operational testing and pilot training is complete, Van Riper said.

Photo Credit: Lockheed Martin

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