Since the initial Apache AH1 deliveries there have been several improvements and upgrades rolled out to the fleet, often based on operational experience.
- Systems Enhancement Programme
- Defensive Aids Systems
- Targeting Systems (Arrowhead)
- Flotation Equipment
- Capability Sustainment Programme
Systems Enhancement programme (SEP)
From 2003, the early delivered aircraft were rotated back through Westlands for some modifications. This programme included the fitting of the highly advanced HIDAS (Helicopter Integrated Defensive Aids Suite), installation of a HUMS (Health and Usage Monitoring System), as well as fitment of a Low Height Warning system.
Defensive Aids Systems
The original specifications included a very advanced defensive aids suite, not fitted to existing Apaches. The HIDAS system was still under developments, so the initial aircraft deliveries were not equipped with it and had weatherproof blanking caps fitted where the sensors would normally be.
When HIDAS was originally fitted, it had a 4-point system, covering the four quadrants, and it was in this configuration that the Apache AH1 went into combat in Afghanistan during Operation Herrick. The forward-facing sensors were mounted on the nose, and the rear facing sensors were positioned on the boom.
Operational experience in Afghanistan led to a refinement of this arrangement, and a five-sensor suite was introduced for improved coverage beneath the aircraft. The two boom mounted sensors were re-positioned onto the stub wingtips, still facing rearwards, and a fifth sensor was mounted beneath the boom, facing directly downwards.
These HIDAS systems were not required to be fitted onto the non-operational Apaches that were in use by the training squadron at Middle Wallop, so these aircraft were often seen with blanked off sensor locations.
The nose mounted targeting sensors as originally fitted were the standard USArmy variant. The “Arrowhead” programme took place to introduce a new and improved M-TADS/PNVS system.
This consists of a much-improved IR sight with a more reliable set of LRUs. The improved capability of this new IR system is a quantum leap forward over the old original 1970’s technology with vastly improved resolution, clarity, and discrimination, and has taken the Apaches “find” capability to a completely new level.
The first pair of aircraft were upgraded by AgustaWestland at their facility in Yeovil, with remainder of the 67 upgrades completed at Wattisham during 2010.
The Army Air Corps Apache was always anticipated having a Maritime Role. However, the tall and thin stance, with a high centre of gravity, especially with the heavy Longbow RADAR fitted, meant that the aircraft was not especially stable in the event of a ditching in water.
To make the aircraft safer for the crews for overwater operations, a clever flotation device solution was designed and implemented, and the kit is fitted to aircraft whenever extensive over-water operations are going to be undertaken.
The equipment comprises four large flotation devices, fitted beneath the stub wings between the two existing weapons pylons, and alongside both sides of the pilot’s cockpit area. When activated, these deploy four large flotation bags, which will keep the aircraft upright in water for a longer period, allowing the crews to escape or be rescued.
Capability Sustainment programme
CSP was a MAJOR programme designed to ensure an effective and supportable Attack Helicopter force remained into the future. This introduced brand new AH-64E Guardian v6 airframes fitted with HIDAS, Longbow and other systems recovered from the existing retiring Apache AH1 fleet.