Army Pilots Await Deliveries of New and Improved Apache Attack Helicopters
The current version, the Apache Block II, is still in production. But Block III aircraft already are starting to be assembled at Boeing’s Mesa, Ariz., facility, officials said April 18 at the Army Aviation Association of America’s annual forum. The first of the new Longbows will come off the line for delivery in October, said Col. Shane T. Openshaw, project manager for the Apache program. The second aircraft will enter the line next week, added David Koopersmith, Boeing’s vice president of attack helicopter programs.
While the Block III Longbows will feature familiar assets, the bulk of them will have new fuselages. They also will bring some new technology, including a “ground fire acquisition system” that uses a flash detector to determine the type of and source of enemy fire. This system will be fielded on current aircraft in August and deployed next year, Openshaw said.
The Block III aircraft also will employ composite blades that help increase cruise speed, he said.
The new Apaches will be stronger, faster and less constrained in hot temperatures and high altitudes like those present in Afghanistan, he said. The Block IIIs will have a maximum combat speed of 164 knots, about 20 knots faster than those currently in service.
Block III aircraft also are being optimized to work with unmanned systems. Pilots inside the new aircraft will not only be able to receive video feeds from drones, but they also will be able to control unmanned-aircraft sensors and even fly the aircraft themselves.
Apaches already have been partnering with unmanned aircraft, officials said. The upgrades “will only make us that more lethal,” said Lt. Col. Hank Taylor, who just returned stateside three weeks ago after commanding an Apache task force in Afghanistan. The unit flew in support of ground troops in Kandahar. Apaches often were used for “show of force” missions by flying over the enemy, Taylor said. Even during bad weather days when enemy fighters could not see the helicopters flying through the valleys, they could hear them. “That was enough to stall them and keep them from attacking our friendly forces and Afghan forces,” Taylor said.
More than 620 remanufactured aircraft have been delivered under the Apache program. Last year, 37 remanufactured and 15 “new builds” were delivered. The plan for 2011 calls for 25 remanufactured Apaches, 15 of which already have been delivered, and 12 new helicopters.