With the Apache fleet racking up the hours during a hectic Operation Herrick commitment over many years, thoughts turned to sustaining the Attack Helicopter capability.
One option was to upgrade the current fleet of Apache AH1s, however these were getting increasingly difficult to support as they were gradually getting further away from the baseline current Boeing and US Army standard, and therefore becoming less supportable.
The best long-term solution would be to align with the current US Army standard of Apache (AH-64E Guardian v6) as this would be supported by the manufacturer for a longer time.
The US Army currently have two tracks to get AH-64E models. One is new-build airframes, and the other is to refurbish and upgrade existing airframes. The route chosen depends upon the age, and current standard of the existing airframe.
Both options were available for the AAC, and a single airframe (ZJ202) was despatched to Boeing at Mesa, Arizona to trial the feasibility of the upgrade/refurbish route. After extensive evaluation, it was decided that the upgrade of the existing airframes was not really feasible, and the most cost-effective option was to obtain brand new AH-64E airframes and fit as many existing Apache AH1 components and equipment into them that could be used.
For various political and PR reasons this Capability Sustainment Programme often refers to the process as an “upgrade” or “re-manufacture”, and yes, a large value of the expensive high-tech avionics and other systems are re-used from Apache AH1, but the basic airframes themselves are brand new.
The old Apache AH1s that are selected for the CSP programme have some UK systems removed at Wattisham before being shipped to SES at Huntsville, Alabama. Here, the airframes are stripped of useable components, and the airframe hulks then disposed of. The useable components are then sent to Boeing at Mesa for integration in the new AH-64Es.
The brand-new AH-64E airframes are built on the production line in India, and shipped to Mesa, Arizona for fitting out, and the installation of the previously recovered Apache AH1 components. After test flying, they are then air-freighted to the UK for delivery to the AAC.
This programme proceeds at a rate of roughly one per month and will eventually see the AAC AH-64E fleet numbering 50 aircraft, down from the original 67 Apache AH1s.
Middle Wallop will be home to the AH-64E training unit, whilst the rest will be stationed at the Apache Main Operating Base at Wattisham.
There are numerous external differences between Apache AH1 and AH-64E, but many of these are only obvious when viewed close-up. Three of the most obvious recognition features of an AH-64E are shown in the above image.
1 – the distinctive “egg whisk” SatCom antennae above the “ARMY” stencilling.
2 – the large V/UHF aerial mounted above the right engine.
3 – the 2 vertical black warning bands on the engine cowling, denoting the position of the fan blades.
The old Apache AH1s that were dispatched for CSP at SES Huntsville, Alabama, were: –
|22nd May 2018
|24th May 2018
|24th July 2018
|13th December 2018
|6th June 2019
|14th January 2020
|11th March 2020
|26th May 2020
|8th July 2020
|9th September 2020
|13th January 2021
|3rd March 2021
|15th May 2021
|21st July 2021
|7th September 2021
|9th February 2022
|3rd May 2022
|22nd July 2022
|21st July 2022 to BZN