February 19, 2015: Strategy Page
The U.S. Army received its first AH-64Es in 2011. Then in 2014 this most recent version of the Apache completed a seven month tour in Afghanistan. There the 24 AH-64Es with an aviation battalion performed better than expected. Each of these AH-64Es flew an average 66 hours a month while there. The readiness rate of the AH-64Es was 87 percent, compared to the army standard of 80 percent. One of the surprising new capabilities of the AH-64E was its ability to fly about 29 percent (at 288 kilometers an hour) faster that the D model. That translated into moving about one kilometer per minute faster and this cost the experienced Taliban commanders a lot of casualties. That was because these guys knew from experience how long it took a D model to arrive after the Taliban ambushed NATO forces. Suddenly the E model was showing up earlier and catching the Taliban exposed to attack rather than safely away or under cover. The AH-64E also had new electronics that enabled it to work more closely with UAVs, as in getting the video feeds directly and basically using the UAVs more effectively as scouts to spot targets. The Taliban weren’t expecting that either. NATO troops supported by the AH-64Es also noted the new capabilities and quickly began exploiting them when they knew they were getting air support from Es instead of Ds. These speed and commo capabilities were built into the AH-64E based on past experience and testing and training exercises gave pilots and ground commanders hints that these changes could be very useful. Battlefield experience confirmed that and led to new tactics for the E crews and the troops supported that no one had foreseen.
Testing of these new capabilities began in 2011 when the army began receiving the first of 51 "low rate initial production” AH-64s. This came three years after the first flight. These aircraft were then called the AH-64D Block III Apache helicopter gunship. It was decided in 2012 that the Block III improvements were so numerous and dramatic that it made more sense to go to a simpler and more descriptive AH-64E designation. The D model also had a name; Longbow (as it was optimized to kill tanks). The E model was called Guardian (because it was optimized for supporting infantry).
This goes back to the AH-64A, which was the initial model and entered service in 1986. The last AH-64A was taken out of service in 2012 for upgrade to the AH-64D standard. The AH-64B was an upgrade proposed for the early 1990s, but was cancelled, as was a similar “C” model upgrade. Some of these cancelled improvements were in great demand. Thus the “B” and “C” model upgrades were incorporated in the AH-64D Block I (1997). The AH-64D Longbow (because of the radar mast, making it possible to see ground targets and flying obstacles in all weather) models began appearing in 2002.
By the end of the decade 634 army AH-64Ds will be upgraded to the new AH-64E standard. The first AH-64Es entered service in 2012 and were heavily used to reveal any design or manufacturing flaws. These were fixed before mass production and conversion began in late 2013.
AH-64Es have more powerful and fuel efficient engines, as well as much improved electronics. AH-64Es also have Internet- like capabilities enabling these gunships to quickly exchange images, video, and so on with other aircraft and ground troops. Each AH-64E can also control several UAVs and launch missiles at targets spotted by these UAVs. The AH-64E radar has longer range and onboard computers are much more powerful than earlier ones. The electronics are easier to upgrade and maintain. The combination of improved fire control and Internet capabilities greatly increases the combat effectiveness of the AH-64.
The 10 ton AH-64E carries a pilot and a weapons officer, as well as up to 16 Hellfire missiles (plus the 30mm automatic cannon). Sorties average three hours. The AH-64 can operate at night and has a top speed of about 300 kilometers an hour.
In addition to the U.S. Army, the AH-64E the UAE (United Arab Emirates) bought 60. Neighboring Saudi Arabia ordered 70, as well as upgrades for its existing twelve AH-64s to the “E” standard. Many more of the existing 1,100 AH-64s (American and foreign) may be upgraded as well.