Douglas Barrie/LONDON

The UK could acquire an additional 20 Westland/McDonnell Douglas WAH-64 Apache attack helicopters if the British Army succeeds in an attempt to trade off cuts in heavy armour with more attack helicopters.

Tank units now attached to the British Army of the Rhine are coming under intense scrutiny as part of the new Labour Government's strategic defence review (SDR). The outcome of this may be the army's withdrawal from Germany, as well as overall cuts in the number of Challenger tanks.

Industry sources confirm that in reply to the likely cuts in armour, the army is arguing for more WAH-64s. Both UK and US sources indicate that the Army Air Corps (AAC) is looking to gain at least a further 20 helicopters on top of the 67 on order. The addition of a further 20 airframes would bring the total much closer to the Army's original planning number for attack helicopters.

The Army is understood to be arguing that any cuts in heavy armour, and the resulting loss of fire-power, needs to be compensated by additional attack helicopters. The WAH-64s are fitted with the Longbow fire-control radar and the Hellfire II millimetre-wave radar-guided anti-tank missile. The SDR is also considering the appropriate force structure, in the light of the UK's emerging foreign- policy and defence requirements, so the Army is also emphasising the suitability of the WAH-64 for rapid response units.

The Army has made no attempt to hide its desire to acquire additional helicopters. Shortly after the WAH-64 was selected in 1995, Maj Gen Simon Lytle, the then-director of army aviation and head of the AAC, suggested that it would look to purchase further AH-64s. An order for 91 had been expected.

The Army is also understood to be concerned over the Royal Navy's helicopter fire-support requirement for its Commando Brigade. One of the AAC's WAH-64 squadrons is earmarked to fulfil the marine-support role.

Given the limited numbers of WAH-64s being procured, the Army is worried that the available resources will not be able to meet operational demands.

Source: Flight International