Quad A 2017: AH-64E becomes army’s guardian
The US Army is well on its way in fielding new-build versions of the latest iterations of its AH-64 Apache attack helicopter.
In April 2016, Boeing concluded a contract with the US Army to remanufacture 117 AH-64D Apaches to the latest, more capable AH-64E Guardian standard at its Mesa production centre, along with acquisition of Longbow Crew Trainers, logistical support and spares. Total contract value is about $1.5 billion.
Overall, the army plans to acquire 690 AH-64E Apaches, 290 of which are now under contract.
In January, Boeing officials confirmed that the company had already delivered 15 new-build and 155 remanufactured Guardians to the army.
McDonnell Douglas and Boeing have produced more than 2,200 Apaches since the first AH-64A joined the army in January 1984, with deliveries continuing to the US Army and 11 other customers around the world.
With the AH-64E fleet reasonably expected to remain on duty with the army into the 2030s or 2040s, the lifecycle of the aircraft is likely to exceed 50 years.
The AH-64E represents a quantum leap in capability for the Apache, reflecting the latest technology trends, particularly in the realm of secure digital data connectivity through the joint tactical information distribution system, improved sensors, advanced aerodynamics and integration with unmanned platforms.
Programme officials also highlight the benefits of Level 4 UAV control and Link 16 interface.
The installation of small tactical terminals produced by ViaSat, now part of the AH-64E Apache remanufacturing process, enables improved situation awareness for Guardian crews as a mission unfolds by maintaining a constant presence on the Link 16 network while simultaneously switching waveforms and network connections on a second channel and merging disparate networks.
Another improvement in the AH-64E and the latest UH-60M Black Hawk variant are uprated General Electric T700-701D turboshaft engines linked to an improved drivetrain.
The T700 has powered both models since they entered service over 30 years ago, but that is about to change.
In August 2016, the army awarded two contracts under the Advanced Affordable Turbine Engine (AATE) programme for the development of new turboshaft engine designs for the Black Hawk and the Apache, which will likely migrate into follow-on FVL platforms.
A $154 million contract reportedly went to Advanced Turbine Engine Company (ATEC), a joint venture of Honeywell and Pratt & Whitney, while GE Aviation landed $102 million. The contracts support a preliminary design review for a replacement engine ahead of a design selection in 2018 for the AATE programme, before proceeding into the engineering and manufacturing development stage.
Army specifications call for an advanced engine design with 50% more power, 25% better fuel efficiency, better hot and performance and 20% longer life than the T700. Total development costs for the AATE are projected at around $720 million. Both ATEC and GE are developing advanced 3,000-shaft hp designs.
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