An interview with someone in the know on Apache Attack Helicopters

Afraid I’m not permitted to reveal my source (which is  quite cool for a novice writer!). This is an interview I had whilst working at DefenceIQ.

Thoughts and comments welcome.

What makes the Apache unique?

Although the Apache was designed in the 1970s as a tank killer, when that threat vanished, Apache operators learned it was capable to perform more missions than originally visioned. So the Apache is able to perform missions along all spectrums of conflict.

Iit runs the gamut of reconnaissance and surveillance to attack modes. It is a very successful design and over the past 25-30 years the aircraft has continued to be upgraded with current technologies. And new technologies as they are available are put in block form.

A very efficient development process was established early, which is really amazing when you think about its development over more than 30 years. The A model has evolved into the D model.  The Cobra has had a long life but it has gone through the alphabet and now is up to Z – Zulu.

The Apache started at A and went directly to D — no B or C designation, which is interesting.

The fully integrated capability, the ability to use its radar to scan the battlefield, to be able to communicate and eliminate the need for voice chats – all these things give the Apache unique advantages on the battlefield. Its performance, the ability to be maintained in the field and the ability to survive attacks are its key attributes.

If you go back and look at some of the stories from the Desert Storm through current Operations you can learn a lot about the Apache and how it has been deployed.

There is one story of a battalion of Apaches, more than 20 helicopters, which flew across Iraq in the middle of the night. Local residents were on their cell phones telling soldiers that the helicopters were coming. When the helicopters arrived, the situation was not as they expected and the aircraft turned around and headed back.But they flew through a gauntlet of enemy fire that damaged the aircraft but did not bring them down. Every one of the helicopters made it back safely even though they had been shot up.

The aircraft is capable of taking hits, and it’s capable of surviving.

All of these factors make the Apache unrivalled in combat.  Its ability to perform is what makes it unique.

What are its specific strengths?

Well its lethality is the main thing.  And survivability it critically important too.

The ability to shoot targets without being seen.

The ability to fire missiles from extended ranges so that the enemy doesn’t even know its coming.

It’s the kind of thing that the enemy is afraid of – it makes them not want to go out to work that day! They don’t know if they’ll come back.

That’s how bad Apache is!

When you look at the videos that have leaked out over the years, you understand that when you are a target you are in trouble.

Does the Apache have an advantage over other attack helicopters?

The Apache has the ability to see further and can effectively deploy weapons at greater ranges than other attack helicopters   These and other technolgies make the Apache stand out as unique.

The prevailing message seems to be that the Apache has many competitors, but no competition.

The bottom line is that the Apache has proven it can perform and that it can be efficiently maintained.

One documented fact that is valuable is looking at the number of flight hours the Apache has logged – more than 3.5 million. It has been in constant use in very dangerous and unfriendly environments.

Until another helicopter has matching data, it’s hard to compare Apache to anything.

One other thing that Apache does better than anyone else is modernization through what is called the “technology roadmap.”

‘A’ models were still being produced when testing was begun to incorporate digital capabilities.

As the US Army was fielding thethe first ‘D’ models, designers and engineers were already looking at the next generationApache.  Though its evolution the aircraft has transformed from black and white monotone screens to full colour moving map displays, eliminating the need for radio conversation to collect data and communicate with forces on the ground.

As Apache has added capabilities, the helicopter has become more effective and setting itself apart from the competition.

What are the key upgrades?

Today’s AH-64D Apache Block III, first delivered in October 2012,features increased flight performace with  an improved drive system which provides the ability to use more power from its  engines, and composit rotor blades.

It has increased the situational awareness with cognitive decision-aiding and fused sensor information resulting in improved survivability and targeting

System-level diagnostics,  upgrade to the fuselage –  strengthening it – is part of the aircraft’s improved sustainability.

The upgrades to the computer processing – the Apache has a modular structure – open archtecture design —  enables new software to be uploaded  without having to requalify the whole aircraft.

These are the more significant aircraft enhancements.

Could you explain the UAV Synergy?

The new Block III Apache features Level 4 UAV control.  That means being able to direct a UAV’s flight path and the control it’s sensors.  It extends the crewmember’s vision, allowing them to seemiles ahead and seeing whether or not that’s the route they want to take or that’s the target they must go after.

Considering the targeting capabilities of the Apache, if the crew can see several miles ahead then they will be able to address the threat without even getting close enough to put themselves in danger.

Where can it be used?

The missions of the helicopter are the choice and decision of the battlefield commanderss.

The Apache has capabilities to be used in day/night operations, used in search and rescue, command and control.

If you put these capabilities in to the equation and a defence force can apply it to a wide range of threats.

Where is the Apache going to be in 10 years?

The question really comes down to technology. If a new technology or capability is coming online then you can speculate.

There are a few articles published that talk about potential upgrades and capabilities.


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