$76M in Block III Radar Units for AH-64 Attack Helicopters
The Lockheed Martin/ Northrop-Grumman joint venture Longbow L.L.C. in Orlando, FL received a $76 million increment as part of a $100 million cost-plus-incentive-fee contract for Apache Block III Radar Electronics Units. Work will be performed in Baltimore, MD (50%), and Orlando, FL (50%), and is expected to be complete by Dec. 30, 2008. This was a sole source contract initiated on Jan. 11, 2006 by the Army Aviation and Missile Command at Redstone Arsenal, AL (W58RGZ-05-C-0239).
The radar upgrades are part of a larger set of programs aimed at upgrading the US Army’s AH-64 Apache fleet. With the collapse of the RAH-66 Comanche program, and rededication of its funding into the Bell 407 Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter (ARH), the Light Utility Helicopter (LUH), and hopefully the Future Cargo Aircraft (FCA) to replace the Army’s C-123 Sherpa planes, the Apache will be the USA’s primary attack helicopter for several more decades.
Overall AH-64D Longbow Block III improvements, slated for 2008 on, incorporate 25 technology insertions as part of the Army’s future force plan. Production of Block III Apaches is scheduled to begin in Mesa, AZ around 2010, following completion of current Apache production work.
edefense Online’s “New Tactics for Apache” article notes that the AH-64D models now in existence include:
- 284 Block I AH-64D Apaches, upgraded in 1997 to include improved radar, Hellfire II missiles, and better cockpit displays.
- 217 Block II AH-64D Apaches, a second upgrade program still in progress that is providing some of the original AH-64A models with night-vision sensors, color cockpit displays, digital maps, and longer-range fire control radar.
The Army aims to upgrade all of the current Block I and II Apaches, plus an additional 96 planned AH-64 helicopters, to Block III status by 2020.
The current Apache AH-64D Longbow is equipped with the AN/APG-78 Longbow fire control radar, whose use of millimeter wave sensing improves performance under poor visibility conditions and is less sensitive to ground clutter. The short wavelength also allows a very narrow beam-width, which is more resistant to countermeasures when it’s trying to guide the helicopter’s missiles to their targets. Block III upgrades are designed to extend the Apache’s sensor range in all domains, and may be paired with extended range weapons like the Joint Common Missile as well.
The Apache Block III program will incorporate open systems architecture to create more standardization and “switchability,” extended range sensing, extended-range fire control radar, extended range missiles, wideband network communications to maximize its networkability, and high capacity data fusion computers to merge off- and on-board sensor imagery into a single shared picture of the battlefield. The Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) is scheduled to be part of this effort, but continued delays and questions about the program may lead to installation of upgraded versions of the AN/ARC-231 Skyfire system instead.
Other planned enhancements to the AH-64D Block III include enhanced engines and drive systems, the capability to control UAVs, and a new composite rotor blade. The new blades, which successfully completed flight testing in May 2004, increase the Apache’s cruise speed, climb rate and payload capability.