American AH-64D Apache: War Replacement Contracts
War takes its toll on equipment, as well as men. In some cases, it wears out. In other cases, enemy fire or accidents destroy equipment. The USA has recognized this fact by funding wartime replacement expenditures as supplemental funding, which is outside the normal budgetary process. The intent is that this money will be spent on replacing equipment that has been worn out, damaged or destroyed, or will be used to provide specialized capabilities like MRAP mine-resistant vehicles that are directly related to front-line demands.
Admittedly, this hasn’t always been true. Politicians are what they are, and so are large organizations like the military. One area where this ethic has undoubtedly been honored, however, has been the AH-64 Apache attack helicopter fleet. This article covers US Army Wartime Replacement Aircraft (WRA) AH-64D Longbow buys, which are the only truly new attack helicopters in the America’s inventory. That will change with the new Block III model, which is more advanced than the WRAs.
AH-64D Program: Past and Present
The current contract brings the number of war-replacement AH-64 aircraft (sometimes called WRAs) under contract to 68. These WRAs supplement the 720 or so AH-64s that survive as of October 2005, out of the 821 AH-64s originally built for the US Army.
Apache helicopters are in very heavy demand as escorts for other helicopters in the war zones, to the point that the AH-64 fleet had logged more than 2 million flight hours by April 2006 – nearly 1/3 of which had been logged after Sept. 11/01. Apaches have also taken losses in combat. Even armor rated to stop 23mm cannon shells may not survive a missile hit, and helicopters are relatively fragile war machines, that can be seriously damaged if they take enough fire in smaller calibers, or endure an unlucky strike in the wrong place.
That’s a problem, because with the collapse of the RAH-66 Comanche program, and re-dedication of its funding into the ARH-70 Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter (ARH, future now uncertain), the UH-145 Light Utility Helicopter (LUH), and other programs, the AH-64 Apache will remain the USA’s primary attack helicopter for several more decades.
While a small percentage of the coming Block III Apaches will be new-build machines, the WRA Apaches will be the only new-build AH-64Ds in the fleet for a little while. Most of the USA’s fleet was remanufactured from AH-64A Apaches to AH-64D Apache Longbow status over a 10-year period, under 2 multi-year contracts that ran for 5 years each. These helicopters received equipment upgrades, and were also rebuilt to “zero flight hours” condition.
- The first multi-year contract was for 232 helicopters, and covered Lots I-V. A total of 284 helicopters, which includes the Lot VI helicopters from the second multi-year contract, were built to the AH-64D Block I standard.
- Another 217 helicopters in Lots VII-X were built to the AH-64D Block II standard, which adds improved electronics and software. All were built during the second multi-year contract period.
- The lateness of the JTRS program, and other issues, have delayed the future Block III model, and so January 2007 saw a contract to convert another 96 American AH-64As to the AH-64D “Extended Block II” standard.
Note that Block II+ or “Extended Block II” Apaches are the same as the current retrofitted standard for the Block II aircraft fleet, except for minor hardware differences associated with advancing electronics and improved sub-systems. The “Extended” or “Block II+” simply denotes a Block II machine that was remanufactured or built outside of the 2 big multi-year contracts noted above. Most of these helicopters will eventually be remanufactured again under current plans, this time to Block III status.
The new-build WRA Block II+ helicopters are assembled on the same line as the remanufactured Apaches, which is located in Mesa, Arizona. That facility holds the distinction of being the first Boeing location to win a Shingo Prize for manufacturing excellence (2005), due to its work in process improvement and lean production. Williams informs DID that AH-64 remanufacturing rates are fairly stable right now at about 3 US Army AH-64Ds per month, plus another 1-2 under the UAE’s program. In contrast, annual WRA contracts are variable, and use spare capacity within the facility.
Boeing is currently delivering new-build AH-64D Block II+ WRAs within 28 months of contract issue, and total orders stand at 68.
AH-64D WRAs: Program Contracts
Please note that the full fly-away cost of an AH-64D helicopter cannot be calculated from any of the contracts below. These contracts cover only AH-64D airframes and integration, or involve long lead-time items that must be ordered early. Expensive items like GE’s T700 engines, the Longbow radar mast, Arrowhead sensors, weapons, communications equipment etc. are bought separately as “government furnished equipment.” The contracts below provide for assembly and integration at Boeing, but they do not buy the equipment itself.
Unless otherwise noted, Boeing subsidiary McDonnell Douglas Helicopter Co. in Mesa, AZ is the contractor, and contracts are managed by the US Army Aviation and Missile Command in Redstone Arsenal, AL.
Nov 1/11: A $29.9 million firm-fixed-price contract modification for 2 AH-64D Apache War Replacement Aircraft. Work will be performed in Mesa, AZ, with an estimated completion date of Oct 31/13. One bid was solicited, with one bid received (W58RGZ-05-C-0274).
This brings the total ordered so far to 68.
Feb 4/11: A $70 million firm-fixed-price contract for 14 new build AH-64D war replacement aircraft. Work will be performed in Mesa, AZ, with an estimated completion date of Dec 31/12. One bid was solicited with one bid received (W58RGZ-05-C-0274).
July 29/08: A $79.8 million firm-fixed-price contract for 5 war replacement AH-64D Apache Longbow Block II+ attack helicopters. Work will be performed in Mesa, AZ and is expected to be complete by April 30/11. Contract funds will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. There was one bid solicited on Dec 20/07 and one bid was received (W58RGZ-05-C-0274).
March 14/07: A $15.5 million modification to a firm-fixed-price contract for war replacement AH-64D Apache Longbow aircraft. Work will be performed in Mesa, AZ and is expected to be complete by May 31/10. This was a sole source contract initiated on April 4/07 (W58RGZ-05-C-0274).
Feb 7/07: Boeing subsidiary McDonnell Douglas Helicopter Co in Mesa, AZ received a $136.9 million modification to a firm-fixed-price contract “for procurement of war replacement AH-64D Apache Longbow aircraft.” Work will be performed in Mesa, AZ and is expected to be complete by April 10/11. This was a sole source contract initiated on Jan 31/07 by the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command in Redstone Arsenal, AL (W58RGZ-05-C-0274).
Just before this contract was announced, a pair of Apaches were lost in Iraq. The causes were reported as 12.7mm machine gun fire and an SA-7 Strela man-portable missile.
Nov 1/06: A $152 million modification to a firm-fixed-price contract for war replacement AH-64D Apache Longbow Aircraft. Work will be performed in Mesa, AZ and is expected to be complete by Nov 30/09. This was a sole source contract initiated on July 19/06 (W58RGZ-05-C-0274).
May 31/06: A $40.9 million modification to a firm-fixed-price contract for AH-64D Apache Longbow aircraft. Work will be performed in Mesa, AZ and is expected to be complete by Oct 31/08. This was a sole source contract initiated on Oct 31/05 (W58RGZ-05-C-0274).
Sept 26/05: A $5.9 million firm-fixed-price contract for AH-64D Apache Longbow aircraft. Work will be performed in Mesa, AZ and is expected to be complete by Oct 31/07. This was a sole source contract initiated on June 2/05 (W58RGZ-05-C-0274).
The AH-64’s Future
With the cancellation of the RAH-66 Comanche next-generation attack/scout helicopter in 2001, the US Army was forced to reconsider its plans for the AH-64 Apache. Instead of the Comanche, it will field the AH-64D Block III Apache, with capabilities that include improved communications, the ability to take feeds from or even control UAV drones in their area, enhanced engines and drive systems, a new composite rotor blade, and extended sensor range.
AH-64D Block III deliveries are currently scheduled to begin in 2011, under yet another remanufacturing program. This program is currently slated to begin by updating the 284 AH-64D Block 1 helicopters via a second remanufacturing process. If all goes well and no further versions are called for, they would remanufacture the Block II fleet to AH-64D Block III standard by 2020.
There are reports that the remaining 100 or so AH-64A attack helicopters in the Army’s fleet will be offered to foreign buyers, most of whom are likely to order AH-64D remanufacturing upgrades of their own.
Additional Readings & Sources
DID thanks Boeing’s AH-64D WRA Program Manager Travis Williams, and others at Boeing, who helped to put these purchases in context.
- DID – Boeing Remanufactures AH-64A Apaches to AH-64D Block II. This will also be the new-build WRA standard.
- DID – Apache Block III Program: The Once and Future Attack Helicopter.