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Force Magazine
All Weather Annihilator - November 2011
Boeing’s Apache is all set win the IAF’s attack helicopter contract
 
By Atul Chandra

There have been reports, both in the Indian and the Russian media, that Boeing’s AH-64D Block III ‘Apache’ attack helicopter is emerging as the winner in the Indian Air Force (IAF) competition for 22 attack helicopters. While no confirmation has been made by Indian officials or Boeing, the success of the AH-64D Block 3 in this competition marks a remarkable string of success for the US companies with Boeing already having bagged a contract for 10 C-17 Globemaster transports and 12 P-8I Long Range Maritime Reconnaissance aircraft and Lockheed Martin set to receive a follow on order for six C-130J transports in addition to six already ordered.

Most importantly the IAF could exercise options for more Apache helicopters, taking total numbers finally acquired to 44. According to reports available, the Apache displayed higher upgrade potential and capacity for operation in a network centric environment while also providing better situational awareness to the pilots. More than 1,700 Apaches have been delivered to customers around the world since the Apache went into production and the current US Army acquisition objective alone is for 690 AH-64D Apache Block III aircraft.

The defeat could prove costly for the Mi-28 N ‘Night Hunter’ as it has firm orders for only 67 helicopters, to be delivered by 2015 for the Russian Air Force. It could also stall further developments, to what is by all accounts a highly capable attack helicopter. For Russia, which has dominated the Indian helicopter market for more than four decades, there are still two more contracts to vie for. The first being that for 12 heavy lift helicopters with the Mi-26 T2 competing against the Boeing CH-47F Chinook and another for 197 light general-purpose helicopters involving Kamov’s Ka-226T and AS-550 Fennec helicopter from Eurocopter. Russia is currently in the process of delivering Mi-17-V5 medium helicopters to India under a 2008 contract for supply of 80 helicopters worth USD 1.4 billion. It is quite likely that the MI-17-V5 will be the final Russian type to be flown by the IAF, albeit that the last of them would be retired only around 2050.

US Congress had been notified in December last year of a possible Foreign Military Sale (FMS) to India for a Direct Commercial Sale of 22 AH-64D Block III Apache helicopters, with the complete package being worth approximately USD 1.4 billion. The sale would involve, 50 T-700-GE-701D engines (including six spare engines), 12 AN/APG-78 Fire Control Radars, 12 AN/APR-48A Radar Frequency Interferometers, 812 AGM-114L-3 Hellfire Longbow missiles, 542 AGM-114R-3 Hellfire II missiles, 245 Stinger Block I-92H missiles, and 23 Modernised Target Acquisition Designation Sight/Pilot Night Vision Sensors, rockets, training and dummy missiles, 30mm ammunition, transponders, simulators, global positioning system/inertial navigation systems, communication equipment, spare and repair parts; tools and test equipment, support equipment, repair and return support, personnel training and training equipment; publications and technical documentation, US Government and contractor engineering and logistics support services; and other related elements of logistics support to be provided in conjunction for the proposed direct commercial sale. Not all the helicopters will be fitted with the AN/APG-78 Longbow fire-control as can be seen from the list above.

The Longbow system, as currently configured for the US Army, consists of the Longbow Fire Control Radar; AGM-114L fire-and-forget radar frequency Longbow Hellfire millimeter wave-guided missile, all-digital M299 launcher and AN/APR-48A Radio Frequency Interferometer. The Longbow Fire Control Radar system enables the Apache Longbow to rapidly search, detect, locate, classify, prioritise and engage both moving and stationary targets. The Longbow Block III design reduces system weight by 80 pounds and significantly increases the reliability and maintainability of the Longbow radar. The Longbow Radar Electronics Unit (REU) configuration will be fielded on Apache Block III aircraft from this year. According to Boeing, the REU’s design preserves the two-level maintenance concept, lowers operations and supportability costs and improves reliability three fold, while reducing the size and weight of the radar electronics on the Apache by half. The USD 140 million Longbow Block III development programme was awarded to Longbow LLC in 2005. Longbow LLC is a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman. The first test units were delivered to the US Army in October 2008 with production deliveries scheduled to have begun this year and Initial Operational Capability (IOC) planned for 2012.

Boeing has already received a USD 247 million contract to begin Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP) for the US Army’s AH-64D Apache Block III helicopter, with the first LRIP delivery scheduled to have taken place last month. The Apache Block III helicopter enhances the capabilities of the combat-proven AH-64D Apache by delivering superior flight performance and dramatically increased networked communications capabilities. Key enhancements include an improved drive system featuring the 701D engine, composite main rotor blades and a new split-torque face gear transmission. The Apache Block III features open systems architecture and 26 advanced technology improvements, including level 4 Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) control for increased situational awareness. The new rotor blades have increased the Apache’s cruise speed, climb rate and payload.

The Apache has become a vital battlefield tool in Afghanistan with its ability to escort other helicopters, land convoys and its ISTAR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance) capabilities. The helicopter offers a potent offensive capability, carrying a 30mm cannon, unguided rockets and AGM-114 Hellfire air-to-surface missiles. “The Hellfire missile has shown itself to be the weapon of choice for Apache attack helicopter operations, proving to be an accurate and reliable weapon system and providing airborne fire support to ground forces,” says Peter Luff, UK minister for defence equipment, support and technology. He also revealed that UK Apaches fired more than 550 Hellfires in combat and training exercises between January 2008 and May 2011. The Royal Air Force recently completed 100,000 flying hours on the Apache with a third of that being flown on operations in Afghanistan.

 
 


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