NEWTOWN, CT: The U.S. Army is continuing its efforts to upgrade and modernize its fleet of Boeing AH-64 Apache attack helicopters through a combination of upgrade programs and procurement of new-build helicopters.
The Army is in the midst of a program to remanufacture AH-64A Apaches to the more advanced AH-64D configuration. This effort has been under way for a number of years, and nearly 600 of the service’s AH-64As have so far been rebuilt to the D standard.
Earlier this year, however, the Army decided to extend the remanufacturing program to its entire AH-64A fleet. The service’s previous plan had called for 621 of its AH-64As to be upgraded to the D configuration, which would have left 92 non-converted AH-64As in Army National Guard units. These 92 helicopters will now be upgraded into AH-64Ds. The reason for this decision was the Pentagon’s October 2008 termination of the Bell ARH-70A Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter program. The leftover Army National Guard AH-64As were to have been replaced by ARH-70As.
Meanwhile, Congress is helping to accelerate the rebuild program. Congressional conferees recently added $432.7 million to the FY09 warfighting supplemental appropriations bill to convert 24 Army National Guard AH-64As to the D standard. This funding had not been requested by the Pentagon.
The Army is also acquiring new-production AH-64Ds. A total of 64 have been funded through FY09, and another four are requested in the service’s FY10 Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) budget submission. Deliveries to the Army of new-build AH-64Ds began in June 2007.
Further down the road for U.S. Army Apaches is the Block III upgrade. Current Apache A-to-D conversions are to the so-called Block II standard. In 2006, Boeing received an Army contract worth $619 million for the System Development and Demonstration (SDD) phase of the Block III upgrade program. Block III incorporates 26 technological improvements. The new configuration includes a series of structural, propulsion, and avionics modifications.
In June 2008, the initial Block III prototype (a converted Block II Apache) made its first flight. Five Block III prototypes are being built, one of which is a non-flying testbed that will be used partly to test a new Boeing/Northstar Aerospace split-torque face gear transmission.
Block III-converted AH-64Ds are to be delivered in yearly production lots starting in 2011. Besides the new transmission, helicopters in initial lots will receive T700-GE-701D engines, composite main rotor blades, and a new mission processor (using open system architecture). Additional modifications are to be incorporated in later Block III production lots, including a range extension for the Longbow FCR, embedded diagnostics, and a cognitive decision aiding system.
Originally, Apaches converted to Block III were to retain their existing airframes, which would have been refurbished. However, in 2008, the Army decided that Block III aircraft should have new airframes. One of the reasons for this decision was the wear and tear being placed on Apaches by their high optempo. The Army also believes that incorporation of new airframes will reduce the amount of time that the Apaches are out of the field undergoing remanufacturing. The Block III program will thus switch from refurbished airframes to new airframes starting with the 54th conversion.
Current plans call for 634 AH-64Ds to undergo conversion to Block III. This total includes 230 Block I and 404 Block II helicopters. In addition, approximately 60 AH-64As are to be remanufactured directly into the Block III configuration.
Before all of the planned Block III conversions are completed, though, it is possible that Block III could be superseded by an improved, though yet undefined, Block IV configuration.