Apache: Most potent attack helicopter
The avatar of the venerable Apache that the Indian Air Force has chosen – the AH-64D Apache Block III – as the winner in its 22 copter bid, is perhaps the most potent attack helicopter in the world today. While it is unclear how many of the 22 platforms will come with the Longbow sensor system, the US Army currently has one Longbow in every three Apaches. The Block III aircraft that has won the IAF competition has been designed for increased flight performance – this involves a new airframe, an improved drive system, a 701D engine with an enhanced digital engine control unit and, significantly, an upgraded main rotor with all composite rotor-blades. Boeing has also infused improved situational awareness through a cognitive decisionaiding system for pilots, allowing them to maker quicker decisions more easily. Improved survivability, targeting and fratricide prevention – crucial for a hot battlefield scenario – get a ramp up with integrated aircraft survivability equipment, instrument flight rules and meteorological conditions. The Block III is a notably lighter helicopter than its previous avatars – for instance in the Block III, a single mis- sion computer replaces three separate systems on earlier models. The Block III also comes with additional fuel tanks, an integrated helmet and display sight system with an electromagnetic tracker. The Block III’s communication suite has also been vastly improved with an enhanced data modem. A subtle, yet significant change, is also the forward avionics bay. Certain equipment that is likely to be withheld as a result of India not being a signatory to a CISMOA agreement with Washington will be replaced with Indian systems manufactured by BEL and certain private companies – some of these systems are in the process of being identified.
The Apache legacy is a formidable one. As of June 2012, the platform in its many variants has flown over 3.5 million hours over 28 years and spent 9,30,000 combat hours in ongoing operations in Afghanistan and Iraq – missing that include combat air patrol, convoy escort, rapid reaction, close-combat attack and armed reconnaissance. The US Army has an acquisition objective of 690 of the AH-64D Apache Block III , adding to 678 remanufactured aircraft and 54 new build aircraft in the Block I and Block II configurations. There are 11 international customers for the Apache, with Boeing identifying “significant ongoing international interest for new and remanufactured AH-64Ds.”