Israel’s attack helicopter fleet still flies AH-1 Cobras, but larger and more heavily armored AH-64 Apache helicopters began arriving in 1990, and have distinguished themselves in a number of war since. The country received 44 AH-64A helicopters from 1990 – 1993. Additional buys, conversions, and losses placed the fleet at 45 helicopters as of Flight Global’s World Air Forces 2013 report, split between AH-64As and more modern AH-64D Longbows.
The AH-64D Longbow’s sophisticated mast-mounted radar can quickly pick up tanks and other dangerous targets, but isn’t designed to distinguish civilians from combatants, or to hover close over the deck in highly populated areas. Confronted by asymmetrical urban warfare and budget priority issues, and faced with a lack of cooperation from the Obama administration, the IAF decided in 2010 to forego AH-64D upgrades for their remaining helicopters. On the other hand, the type’s consistent usefulness has led Israeli to make extensive improvements of their own, to the point where Israel has effectively created their own improved AH-64A configuration…
Contracts & Key Events
October 26/17: Israeli military authorities have lifted the remaining restrictions on AH-64 Apache flights following an accident this summer. The IAF Apache fleet had been temporarily grounded in the immediate aftermath of the August 7 crash—which resulted in the death of one crew member—but flights were later resumed under heavy restrictions while a final report on the incident was being compiled. The final report found that the crash at Ramon air base was caused by incorrect installation of a tail rotor control rod after a preliminary report ruled out a previously identified problem of tail rotor blade cracks which caused a temporary halt to operations in July.
August 11/17: AH-64 Apache helicopters operated by the Israeli Air Force have been grounded following a crash on Monday. The August 7 crash, which caused the death of one crew member and injuring the second, occurred between two runways at Ramon air base seconds after the pilot reported technical problems. This is the second grounding of Israeli Apache aircraft in three months after a routine inspection of the helicopters found a 7.8in (20cm)-long crack in a tail rotor blade. However, preliminary indications from an investigation into the recent crash do not connect the crash to the previously identified cracked tail rotor blade issue.
November 14/16: AH-64 Apaches operated by Israel now have an anti-tank capability. Modifications to the attack helicopters now allow for the firing of the Rafael Spike anti-tank guided missile. The program began in 2014 following the halting by Washington of a shipment of Hellfire missiles to Israel during Operation Protective Edge. The offensive, which saw IDF forces conduct several weeks of operations in the Gaza Strip in response to Hamas rocket fire, has drawn international criticism on both sides.
March 14/14: AH-64Ai. Israel has reportedly upgraded its AH-64As to its own improved configuration, which approaches the American AH-64D standard in sophistication but isn’t the same. Improvements reportedly include Israeli electronic warfare and self-protection systems, improved avionics, compatibility with modern Israeli battle management & communications systems, and “several new” Israeli missiles.
Carriage of RAFAEL’s Spike-LR missiles as alternatives to AGM-114 Hellfires would be expected, along with Elbit Systems’ GATR-L laser-guided 70mm rockets. There are also reports that South Korea will be integrating the long-range Spike NLOS and its 25+ km reach onto its new AW159 Wildcat naval helicopters, and that kind of missile would be an equally excellent complement to Israeli AH-64s. All sources would say was:
“They are based on the huge operational experience of the force in using the Apache Longbow in a variety of combat scenarios,” an officer, identified only as Maj. Yonatan…. The upgrade has been developed amid the U.S. refusal to modernize Israel’s Apache fleet, employed in attacks on the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.
The sources said the administration of President Barack Obama blocked Israeli efforts to modernize the Apaches or purchase new helicopters from Boeing.”
Sources: World Tribune, “Israel upgrades Apache helicopters after U.S. blocked their modernization”.
Oct 8/13: AH-64A+. The commander of the IAF’s “Unit 22” says that Israel’s AH-64As are undergoing comprehensive upgrades in Israel. This includes replacing original wiring and some main computers, and a new unit-designed compartment beneath the fuselage that houses additional electronics.
Israel still flies a number of AH-64A models, after deciding not to upgrade the entire fleet to the AH-64D standard. Flight Global’s Ascend databases places the number at 26 / 48 helicopters, but it may not fully account for casualties. Sources: FlightGlobal, “Israeli Apache upgrade adds avionics pod”.
Dec 31/10: Weapons. Israel is reportedly looking to equip its AH-64 helicopters with guided 70mm rockets, and is reportedly considering whether tho use the American Hydra or Canadian CRV-7 as its base.
That’s an odd contention, because Israel’s Elbit Systems Ltd. partnered with America’s ATK on July 9/08 to create a 70mm GATR-L laser-guided rocket. It’s based on the Hydra, and reportedly had successful Israeli flight trials in June 2009. Sources: Jerusalem Post, “Rapid-fire rocket system aims to reduce civilian casualties”.
June 30/10. Israel abandons plans to upgrade its entire AH-64 fleet to the AH-64D Longbow configuration, and will choose to improve the helicopters’ weapon options instead. They’ll also continue operating their CH-53D helicopters until the CH-53K is available to replace them. Sources: Flight Global, “Israel ditches Apache upgrade plan, commits to CH-53K”.
No more AH-64D upgrades
Aug 4/09: After analyzing their AH-64D fleet’s participation during Operation “Cast Lead” against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, the IAF has decided to upgrade all of its AH-64As to the AH-64D configuration. That’s fine with Boeing, who has been urging customer to upgrade to AH-64D Block II standard before the US military stops supporting the AH-64A. Sources: Flight Global, “Israel, Boeing negotiate Apache Longbow upgrade”.
May 27/09: US blocks AH-64s. The Obama administration blocks Israel’s request for 6 more AH-64D Apache Longbow attack helicopters, using the old “interagency review” gambit. Israel had lost 2 AH-64s during the 2006 war with Hizbullah. Sources: World Tribune, “Administration blocks helicopters for Israel due to civilian casualties in Gaza”.
April 12/05: The left-wing Ha’aretz publishes an article debating whether or not new rotor aircraft platforms such as the AH-64 Apache Longbow – of which Israeli just bought 18 – are worth the cost. Their immediate security threats are widely considered to be terrorism-related these days, rather than the historic threat of Syrian tank columns. Given their cost, are the really necessary? The report says that the Israeli debate mirrors the U.S. debate that led to the shelving of Boeing and Sikorsky’s RAH-66 Comanche program. A cost of $600 million recently bought Israel the 18 Longbows, plus 9 new Apaches and newly-scheduled upgrades for previously purchased Apaches.
Israeli Longbow purchase opponents – many who would like to see the money put into land forces and ground security purchases – point to the expensive mission in Karbala, Iraq during the campaign that overthrew Saddam Hussein, where small arms managed to seriously hurt 28 of 30 Apaches as they hovered to acquire targets.
Among aviators, much of the Karbala damage has been blamed on intelligence that failed to alert pilots that the terrain south of Baghdad was so heavily populated. Apache and Longbow supporters have also used the Karbala incident to boost their case, pointing out just how much lead the craft were able to absorb while still remaining in the air. Sources: Ha’aretz, “The Longbow – yes and no”.
* IAF – Boeing AH-64 Apache (Hebrew nickname: ‘Peten’ (‘Adder’), ‘Saraph’). AH-64As are Adders. AH-64Ds are Saraphs.
* Boeing – AH-64 Apache.
* DID – Boeing Remanufactures AH-64A Apaches to AH-64D Block II. Explains what’s involved in this now-standard AH-64D configuration.
* DID – US Hellfire Missile Orders, FY 2011-2014. Explains the different variants. In 1996, an Israeli Apache fired a Hellfire right into Hizballah’s Operational Headquarters in Beirut.
* RAFAEL – Spike Family. IIR or command-guided anti-armor missiles.
* DID – Hydra, Awakened: Guided Air-Ground Rockets. Includes GATR-L.