The British Army Air Corps (AAC) accepted its first two Boeing AH-64E Apache Guardian attack helicopters at Wattisham Flying Station, Suffolk, on November 26 – after the aircraft were remanufactured from the UK’s current WAH-64D-standard.
A Royal Air Force (RAF)-operated Boeing C-17A Globemaster III delivered the two remanufactured aircraft to aviation technicians from the British Army’s 7 Aviation Support Battalion, Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME). This unit will maintain and service the new attack helicopters before the AAC commences flying operations from July 2021. In total, the UK will receive 50 examples of the AH-64E Version 6-standard platform to replace its WAH-64D Apache Longbow AH1 fleet, which will reach its out of service date in 2024.
Prior to this, the AAC will focus on trials activities and developing instructional techniques that will safely manage the transition of aircrew from the WAH-64D to the AH-64E. It will also be tested under a full Air System Safety Case, including quality assurance and airworthiness tasks and certification by the UK Military Aviation Authority, to ensure it can support safe flying operations. Following this, full rate conversion training to the new standard will begin under 3 Regiment AAC (3AAC).
In a press release issued following the delivery of the first two remanufactured aircraft, the British Army said: “These Boeing-built new aircraft will enable the UK to maintain its battle-winning attack helicopter capability for decades to come thanks to its improved digital capability. The new aircraft is already in service with the US Army and other defence forces and has been designed and equipped to offer common configuration.”
The remanufactured aircraft have received new turboshaft engines, main rotor blades, drivetrain and avionics that will greatly enhance the attack helicopter’s performance. Embedded system-level diagnostics have also been incorporated into the AH-64E Version 6 to increase the fleet’s overall availability. The platform also comes with a 30mm cannon, an upgraded Hydra Aerial Rocket System and can be equipped with Hellfire air-to-ground missiles.
Alongside this, the new Apache features an extended range Fire Control Radar (FCR) that comes with a maritime mode that will enable the attack helicopter to operate at sea. Link 16 tactical datalinks and Mode 5 Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) systems have also been incorporated into the aircraft, which will also receive a manned-unmanned teaming (MUM-T) capability in the future.
Maj Gen Jez Bennett, director of Capability with the British Army, said: “From supporting hostage rescue missions, to countering an adversaries’ anti-access, area denial platforms, the [AH-64E] outstrips the outgoing [WAH-64D] by increased platform digitalisation, improved weapons and avionics, and the ability to use the latest and future technology to enable teaming with semi-autonomous systems such as UASs.”
The British Army adds that the UK’s remanufacture of its current WAH-64D to AH-64E Version 6-standard was a cost-effective solution. It adds that by utilising a large amount of parts from the Apache AH1, the remanufacture has reduced production costs and has enhanced environmental sustainability. “The new aircraft will be easier to maintain and more reliable, so that it will be more straightforward to sustain in any operational environment,” the British Army continued.
Brig Paul Tedman CBE, commander of the AAC’s 1 Aviation Brigade, added: “I’m delighted to see the first AH-64E arrive in the UK; it’s a significant waypoint on our journey to a modernised Apache capability. As the aviation brigade grows towards its own full operating capability in 2023, the AH-64E will team with [the] Wildcat and provide the backbone of its capability. The next few years represent hugely exciting times for the Joint Helicopter Command and the brigade.”