Afghan Field Report: British WAH-64Ds
When the USA and the Netherlands deployed their AH-64D Apache Longbow attack helicopters to Afghanistan, the Longbow millimeter-wave radar that sits atop the rotor didn’t accompany them. The Dutch helicopters didn’t have that option due to budget pressures, and the Americans decided that the mast-mounted radar would just compromise performance against an opponent that had no armored vehicles to track, and no weapons that made fire-and-forget missile tactics necessary.
The British thought about it, and decided to take a different tack. Their WAH-64s were equipped with RTM322 Mk250 engines [PDF], giving them commonalities with the EH101 Merlin fleet and 2,260 shp – a 19% boost over the 1,890 shp GE T701Cs that power most other Apaches. With power to spare and additional internal fuel tanks, they kept the radars on and focused on finding ways to use them in theater…
The Apaches are exceeding their planned flight hours by 20-30%, and Aviation Week Ares reports that British Apache Longbows are using the radars for a variety of roles. The Longbows can act as aerial coordinators, using their radars to keep track of other helicopters, jets, and UAVs in their airspace – especially at night. They also sweep large areas of desert terrain, and on at least one occasion the radar’s ability to penetrate dust and other obscurement helped the pilot talk a CH-47 Chinook onto a landing zone, after the Chinook pilot’s night vision goggles had become useless.
Even with the RTM322 engines, however, rolling takeoffs are common in Afghanistan’s hot, high-altitude conditions for WAH-64Ds with full fuel and weapons.
As expected, the radars are less helpful when it comes to weapon control. The least frequently-used weapon carried by British Apaches in Afghanistan has been Royal Marines (4), ascending thereafter to Longbow/Hellfire missiles (72), CRV-7 70mm rockets (800, often the flechette anti-personnel version), and 30mm cannon rounds (21,000). Indeed, the cannon is so popular that some of the WAH-64Ds’ internal fuel tanks may be sacrificed to increase ammo capacity beyond 300 rounds.