USA — Apache Block III helicopter performs well in tests

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The U.S. Army’s AH-64 Apache Block III next-gen­er­a­tion attack heli­copter is fin­ish­ing up its Ini­tial Oper­a­tional Test and Eval­u­a­tion at Fort Irwin, Calif., and should be ready to deploy with Sol­diers some­time next year, offi­cials said April 2 at the Army Avi­a­tion Asso­ci­a­tion of America’s 2012 Pro­fes­sion­al Forum and Expo­si­tion.

A new Apache Block III air­craft lifts off the run­way at the Boe­ing com­plex in Mesa, Ariz. The AH-64 Apache Block III next-gen­er­a­tion attack heli­copter is fin­ish­ing up its Ini­tial Oper­a­tional Test and Eval­u­a­tion at Fort Irwin, Calif., and should be ready to deploy with Sol­diers some­time next year.
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The nitial Oper­a­tional Test and Eval­u­a­tion, known as IOT&E, is a series of com­bat-like assess­ments and eval­u­a­tions plac­ing the air­craft in oper­a­tional­ly rel­e­vant sce­nar­ios as a way to pre­pare the plat­form for full-rate pro­duc­tion, said Col. Shane Open­shaw, project man­ag­er, Apache Attack Heli­copters.

Although for­mal results of the Block III Apache’s IOT&E are still in the process of being deter­mined, pre­lim­i­nary obser­va­tions and ear­ly indi­ca­tions sug­gest the high-tech air­craft is per­form­ing extreme­ly well, Open­shaw said. The force-on-force por­tion of the IOT&E has been com­plet­ed and some live-fire exer­cis­es remain in com­ing days, he added.

So far, the Army has already tak­en deliv­ery of 10 of the Boe­ing-built AH 64 Apache Block III air­craft, a heli­copter engi­neered to bring the Apache fleet improved, next-gen­er­a­tion range, per­for­mance, maneu­ver­abil­i­ty and elec­tron­ics. Total planned pro­cure­ment for the Apache Block III is 690 air­craft.

The Block III Apache is being engi­neered such that an advanced, high-tech air­craft at the weight of the D mod­el can have the pow­er, per­for­mance and land­ing abil­i­ties of an orig­i­nal A mod­el Apache. The cur­rent D-mod­el Long­bow Apache is heav­ier than the orig­i­nal A-mod­el; the heav­ier Apache car­ries sig­nif­i­cant­ly improved tar­get­ing and sens­ing capa­bil­i­ties but lacks the trans­mis­sion-to-pow­er ratio and hard-land­ing abil­i­ty of the ini­tial A mod­el.

“I had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to fly a Block III Apache a week ago and I will tell you the per­for­mance of the air­craft is tremen­dous,” Open­shaw said. “It’s fast, strong and capa­ble. We have also made improve­ments to the tar­get acqui­si­tion plat­form. The back­bone of the air­craft is an open-sys­tem archi­tec­ture with improved mis­sion com­mand and inter­op­er­abil­i­ty.”

Engi­neer­ing the air­craft with an open-sys­tem archi­tec­ture refers to efforts to design the elec­tron­ics such that they have a “plug-and-play” capa­bil­i­ty and can eas­i­ly inte­grate with cur­rent state-of-the-art and emerg­ing next gen­er­a­tion tech­nolo­gies, offi­cials said.

The idea is to max­i­mize inter­op­er­abil­i­ty by devel­op­ing elec­tron­ics and com­put­ing tech­nolo­gies accord­ing to a set of estab­lished tech­ni­cal stan­dards through a “sys­tem-of-sys­tems” type of approach so that new sys­tems, sen­sors, appli­ca­tions, elec­tron­ics, avion­ics and oth­er tech­nolo­gies such as soft­ware-pro­gram­ma­ble radio can suc­cess­ful­ly inter-oper­ate and work effec­tive­ly with one anoth­er, they explained.

Built in this fash­ion, the Apache Block IIIs’ avion­ics and mis­sion equip­ment will be able to per­form sophis­ti­cat­ed “net­work­ing” and on-board com­put­ing func­tions and more eas­i­ly accom­mo­date valu­able emerg­ing capa­bil­i­ties, they said.

The Block III Apache is also engi­neered with what’s called Lev­el 4 Manned-Unmanned Team­ing, or MUM capa­bil­i­ty, a tech­nol­o­gy where­in Apache pilots can not only view video feeds from near­by UAS sys­tems scan­ning sur­round­ing ter­rain, but can also con­trol the UAS’ sen­sor pay­load and flight path as well, Open­shaw said.

In fact, the Gray Eagle UAS par­tic­i­pat­ed in the Manned Unmanned Team­ing exer­cis­es dur­ing the Apache Block III IOT&E at Fort Irwin.

Called the UTA, or UAS Tac­ti­cal Com­mon Data Link Assem­bly, the new tech­nol­o­gy enhances pilots’ abil­i­ty to view and con­trol near­by UAV assets with a mind to intel­li­gence, tar­get­ing infor­ma­tion and over­all sit­u­a­tion­al aware­ness. Army engi­neers have devel­oped the soft­ware that equips the air­craft with this next-gen­er­a­tion capa­bil­i­ty.

The advent of this tech­nol­o­gy is lead­ing the Army to estab­lish new tac­tics, tech­niques and pro­ce­dures designed to max­i­mize the val­ue of the emerg­ing tech­no­log­i­cal capa­bil­i­ty, said Col. John Lynch, U.S. Army Train­ing and Doc­trine Com­mand capa­bil­i­ty man­ag­er.

“For exam­ple, with the Block III Apache you might have a UAS that’s over­head look­ing down into urban canyons; with Manned-Unmanned Team­ing you have the abil­i­ty to des­ig­nate tar­gets and you can see what is in the area where you are going to oper­ate,” Lynch said.

The Block III Apache will also bring improved endurance and pay­load capa­bil­i­ties to the attack heli­copter plat­form; the Block III air­craft will be able to trans­port a larg­er amount of ammu­ni­tion and fuel in what is described as “high-hot” con­di­tions at alti­tudes of 6,000 feet and tem­per­a­tures at or above 95 degrees Fahren­heit.

“With Block III you will be able to fly longer with more ammu­ni­tion and a full tank of gas on mis­sions because the air­craft has an improved dri­ve train, com­pos­ite rotor blades and increased per­for­mance capa­bil­i­ties,” Lynch added.

Some of the Block III air­craft will be re-man­u­fac­tured Block II D-mod­el Apach­es and, when full-rate pro­duc­tion starts, some of the air­craft will be con­struct­ed with entire­ly new air­frames, Open­shaw explained.

Through­out its decades-long exis­tence, the Apache plat­form has con­sis­tent­ly upgrad­ed and sus­tained its capa­bil­i­ty in order to incre­men­tal­ly incor­po­rate new tech­nolo­gies as they emerge and bring the lat­est in capa­bil­i­ty to Sol­diers. In fact, all but 51 of the 721 Apache air­craft in the Army inven­to­ry began as the ini­tial or first vari­ant, called A-mod­el Apach­es; many of these orig­i­nal air­craft were then sub­se­quent­ly reman­u­fac­tured to become improved D-mod­el Long­bow Apach­es engi­neered with Fire Con­trol Radar and improved elec­tron­ics.

Today, only eight A-mod­el Apach­es remain in the fleet, Open­shaw said.

Also, Apache attack heli­copters will soon be fly­ing with a pro­to­type ene­my fire detec­tion sys­tem called Ground Fire Acqui­si­tion Sys­tem, or GFAS, a suite of sen­sors and cam­eras able to locate the source, loca­tion and dis­tance of incom­ing hos­tile fire, Army offi­cials said.

Pro­to­types of the GFAS sys­tems, which will soon under­go a “user eval­u­a­tion” in the­ater, are built on to Apache air­craft; they con­tain cam­era sen­sors on each wingtip engi­neered to detect the sig­na­ture and muz­zle flash of near­by ene­my small arms fire. The sys­tem is engi­neered with the abil­i­ty to dis­tin­guish small arms fire from larg­er guns and rock­et-pro­pelled grenades.

The cam­eras and infrared sen­sors on the air­craft detect the muz­zle flash from ground fire and move the infor­ma­tion through an Air­craft Gate­way Proces­sor into the cock­pit so pilots will see an icon on their dis­play screen; GFAS is inte­grat­ed with Blue Force Track­ing tech­nol­o­gy, dig­i­tal map dis­play screens which show the loca­tions of near­by forces and sur­round­ing ter­rain.

Apache pro­gram offi­cials praised the per­for­mance of the attack heli­copter plat­form in the­ater, call­ing it the world’s most lethal, capa­ble attack heli­copter.

“Most of the air assaults we con­duct­ed relied upon the Apache plat­form. Two things you can’t talk about enough are the pilots that fly them and the guys inside the cock­pit that get the mis­sion done. They are ded­i­cat­ed to sup­port­ing the guys on the ground,” said Lt. Col. Christo­pher Downey, Task Force Six Shoot­ers, who spent time with Apache attack heli­copter units assigned to RC East, Afghanistan in 2007 and 2008.

U.S. Army

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