A third round of upgrades for the Boeing AH-64D Apache Block III attack helicopter may include a new decision-making aid for the pilot that leverages an experimental gunfire detection system.
The Block III upgrades, scheduled to be fielded next year, start with upgrading the engines, rotors and transmission system of the AH-64. This will allow the aircraft to hover at 6,000ft (1,830m) when temperatures climb above 35°C (95°F). In phase 2, the army will integrate an airborne version of the joint tactical radio system.
Requirements for the third phase are still being defined, but army officials are intrigued by the situational awareness possibilities offered by a gunfire indicator pod, says Col Shane Openshaw, the service's AH-64 programme manager.
The pod includes three cameras on each side of the aircraft that can detect muzzle flashes, classify the type of weapon being fired and geo-locate the source close enough to allow the pilot to scan the area with a targeting sensor to identify the gunman, Openshaw says.
The gunfire indicator pod is scheduled to be deployed on AH-64s in combat next year, he says.
The addition of the pod means that the AH-64 will have high-resolution sensors providing spherical coverage around the aircraft for the first time. The AH-64 now operates with forward-looking radar, infrared and electro-optical sensors.
By integrating the gunfire indicator pod with the aircraft's processing systems, the AH-64's avionics can start providing recommendations to the pilot as specific threats develop, Openshaw says. If approved, the system would be included in the phase 3 package of upgrades for the AH-64, he says.
The Block III Apache is scheduled for roll-out on 2 November ahead of entering an initial operational test and evaluation phase next January.