The Army Air Corps AH-64 Apache is the successor to Westland’s TOW equipped Lynx anti-armour helicopters. Despite upgrades from the original battlefield Mk.1 through to the combat proven Mk.7, the Lynx were beginning to show their age as the Army Air Corps started showing an interest in the standard U.S. Army attack helicopter. Designed by Hughes, the AH-64A Apache was in widespread use by the U.S. Army throughout the world and was gaining an enviable reputation in the anti-tank arena, despite an initially poor reliability record. Combat proven by the U.S. Army in Panama and during Desert Storm, as well as by the Israelis, an upgraded all-digital version of the Apache was on McDonnell Douglas’s drawing boards by the time the MoD eventually started scouting for a Lynx replacement. A large UK manufacturing input to the program was considered essential; so various British manufacturers teamed up with the prospective helicopter design teams to bid for this substantial contract. An upgraded version of Bell-Textron’s AH-1W Super Cobra, Italy’s Agusta A129, South Africa’s Rooivalk, Sikorsky’s RAH-66 Comanche and the Eurocopter Tiger were all in the frame, but eventually (and perhaps surprisingly) the Army’s favoured choice was selected in the form of the Boeing-Westland WAH-64 Longbow Apache.
Initial calls for well over a hundred examples of this very expensive aircraft were gradually whittled down to the figure of 67, which is pretty much the minimum necessary to equip the planned three Regiments. In order to achieve a degree of commonality with the Merlins coming into service with the RAF and RN, the UK Apaches are fitted with Rolls Royce Turbomeca RTM322 engines that are significantly more powerful than the General Electric T700s fitted to all other Apaches. As part of the deal, all but the first 8 WAH-64s were assembled at Westland’s facility at Yeovil in Somerset, the initial examples being built and test flown from Boeing’s factory at Mesa, Arizona.
The Army Air Corps were obtaining the most capable anti-armour platform in the world; a superb helicopter which has been further enhanced with more powerful engines and superior crews. These consist of a pilot in the raised rear seat and a co-pilot/gunner in the forward seat, their armoured cockpits equipped with modern colour multi-function displays. These MFDs contribute in no small part to a vast reduction in the number of traditional gauges and switches compared to the previous “analogue” Apache and other second generation helicopters. The most instantly recognisable external feature to distinguish these Apaches from the older version is the mast-mounted Longbow millimetre wave radar system. All British Apaches are equipped with this radar (this is not the case for some AH-64D operators) that allows the gunner to detect and discriminate targets from long range without exposing much of the airframe to enemy fire. Other sensors utilised include the upper nose-mounted PNVS (Pilots Night Vision Sensor) and the lower TADS (Target Acquisition and Designation Sight system). TADS comprise FLIR (Forward Looking Infra-Red), DTV (Day TV), and DVO (Direct Vision Optics) modules.
Offensive weapons comprise the M230 Chain Gun located underneath the nose; the crews can aim this 30mm weapon simply by turning their heads towards the target. Main under-wing mounted weapons are Hellfire anti-tank missile in both AGM-114K Hellfire II (Infra Red) and AGM-114L Longbow Hellfire (Radar) variants, whilst CRV-7 rocket pods or auxiliary fuel tanks may also be carried.
Initial deployment plans for the 67 Apaches centred around 9 Regiment at Dishforth, North Yorkshire, plus 3 and 4 Regiments at Wattisham, Suffolk. Each of these Regiments parents a pair of Apache Squadrons, each of 8 aircraft, operating alongside Lynx scout helicopters. The remaining aircraft will be based at Middle Wallop, Hampshire for training, Boscombe Down, Wiltshire for testing, and held in reserve at Shawbury, Shropshire.
With stunning success in Afghanistan during Operation Herrick, the operational Apaches were consolidated into one Main Operating Base at Wattisham in Suffolk, plus a training unit at Middle Wallop.
A Capability Sustainment Programme is also underway to introduce 50 brand new AH-64Es to replace the existing and aging fleet of Apache AH1s.