The UK is in the process of modernising a number of aerial capabilities, and Boeing will be the main beneficiary of two of the most significant upgrades. Boeing’s AH-46E Apache is expected to be chosen to replace the Boeing/Westland AH1 Apache attack helicopter, and its 737-based P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft has already been chosen to fill the gap left by the 2011 retirement of the British Aerospace Nimrod MR2.
The Army Air Corps’ 49-strong AH1 fleet ranges between 12 and 14 years in age, and the E-model Apache is touted as the correct fit for its replacement since the support for the current D-model fleet is expected to come to an end as the new model becomes the primary production type.
In August 2015, the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency announced the state department’s authorisation of a potential $3 billion deal to upgrade 50 AH1 aircraft to the AH-64E standard for the British Army. Flightglobal’s Fleets Analyzer database shows the army to have an additional 17 examples in storage that could be upgraded.
While it is expected that the AH-64E will be the chosen configuration, it is not yet clear if this will involve new build or refurbished examples, or a mixed fleet of both. The US Army opted to acquire 40 new AH-64Es, and remanufacture the rest of its fleet, and a number of other customers are looking to modify existing airframes.
Completion of the incumbent fleet was carried out at Westland’s – now Leonardo’s – Yeovil, Somerset site, and it is unclear what part – if any – the manufacturer will have in a future deal. When pressed, neither Boeing nor Leonardo can offer any detail on the future of this partnership, but it is believed that the UK customer would want an off-the-line aircraft that could be delivered quickly.
Work under way that will benefit the UK customer includes the integration of the MBDA Brimstone missile onto the type, which will allow the rotorcraft to share the air-to-ground weapon with the Royal Air Force’s Panavia Tornado GR4s and, eventually, its Eurofighter Typhoons and Lockheed Martin F-35s.
The current ground-attack capability is provided by the Lockheed Martin AGM-114 Hellfire, and a feasibility study to examine the integration of Brimstone is currently being carried out by the UK Ministry of Defence, MBDA and sub-contractor Boeing to examine the possibility of enabling it to carry the European design.
The one-year sub-£10 million ($14 million) study contract was awarded to MBDA and sub-contractor Boeing on 3 September 2015, and will see a live firing test carried out in the third quarter of 2016, David Armstrong, managing director of MBDA UK, told media in March. Detail on the study is limited, but Armstrong that it is likely to be carried out in the USA using one of Boeing’s E-model test aircraft, but could also use a US Army example, if required.
Armstrong notes the integration risk for Brimstone on the Apache is low, as it already carries the Hellfire, and a large amount of the work surrounds modifying the fire control software.
Traction on a decision and subsequent deal for the UK’s attack rotorcraft upgrade is expected soon, and if it selects the Apache as planned, it is unlikely to benefit from a planned five-year multi-year contract for the programme, which Boeing is hoping to sign in fiscal year 2017. The manufacturer is working with the US Army to accelerate the agreement of such a deal, which would cover the production of 275 aircraft – plus options to ramp up to 450 to support potential export deals – between then and FY2022.
Under the current contract, five AH-64Es can be produced per month, which would ramp up to seven under the multi-year deal, Mark Ballew, director of attack helicopters at Boeing, told Flightglobal at a media briefing at the company’s Mesa, Arizona site in June.
Lot 4 AH-64E Apaches are currently in production, and current contracts cover development through to Lot 6, before the proposed multi-year deal would come into effect. Boeing says 257 AH-64Es will be produced before any multi-year contract, and notes that a second multi-year contract to take it to a total of 690 examples is expected to follow.
Customers of the E-model include the US Army, India, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, South Korea and Taiwan, although Boeing cannot confirm the latter. Qatar became the most recent customer for the variant when it placed an order for 24 examples in June. There are a number of expected future customers of the E-model Apache, including the Netherlands, which now operates 28 D-model variants. It is expected to remanufacture its fleet, and not purchase new-build aircraft, Ballew says. He expects certain customers – including the Netherlands – to wait for the multi-year agreement to benefit from the cost savings that it will provide.
Poland is considering the type to fulfil its Kruk attack helicopter programme, a decision on which is expected during 2017. Boeing signed a memorandum of understanding with Polish company PGZ in 2015, and a number of others are in discussion.
Elsewhere, Boeing is targeting an October test of new CH-47F Chinook rotorblades – the UK operates 14 of this model – to increase its maximum take-off weight by 907kg (2,000lb). A US Army-owned Chinook is at the manufacturer’s Mesa, Arizona facility where it is undergoing modifications ahead of tests of the honeycomb composite rotorblades, which form part of the service’s Block II upgrade plan. Full evaluations will begin in October, following preliminary trials in September. Once fielded, the upgrade will increase the heavy-lift helicopter’s useful load to 13,600kg from 12,700kg.
Past the current rotorcraft programmes, Boeing is looking towards the US Army’s joint multi-role/future vertical lift (JMR/FVL) technology demonstrator (TD) effort, under which it is developing a one-off flying demonstrator with Sikorsky.
Jeff Shelton, senior manager for JMR/FVL global sales and marketing, told reporters in Mesa that Boeing “absolutely does not” want to stop testing the rigid rotor coaxial design after the TD phase is completed, and sees value in continuing the testing as the programme develops into further phases of FVL. “We’re in the process of building a one-off flying demonstrator,” Shelton says. “We are in the manufacturing stage now, and will start assembling later this year at West Palm Beach in Florida, where the flight testing will also take place. We are also looking at ways to extend JMR TD beyond 2019.”
The company’s design is derived from Sikorsky’s X2 demonstrator, and a 14,500kg aircraft will be flown at the end of next year and into 2019, during which it will have to prove its ability to fly at 250kt (462km/h). Follow-on stages of the programme are yet to be determined, and “the requirement development is ongoing”, Shelton says. A request for proposals is expected in 2019, with a contract award in 2020 and fielding in 2030.
FVL will ultimately replace a number of rotorcraft types in the US military and coast guard’s inventory, and Shelton is confident the technology will be offered to international customers as well, given the success of the company’s rotorcraft for export customers. “We have seen international interest in the FVL requirement,” he says. “If the US government replaces these aircraft, you can see international customers doing that too. There are different things we can do to the air vehicle to meet different service needs.”
Under the programme’s FVL Medium stage, a utility variant will be the first type of new rotorcraft to be fielded. This platform is expected to be followed by an attack helicopter, which some expect to be available in the 2045 timeframe.
A cargo aircraft replacement is expected to follow in the period around 2050 to 2060. This would fit with the planned 2062 out-of-service date for Boeing’s CH-47 Chinook. A request for information for a light element of the FVL programme has already been released.
The other significant UK decision that Boeing is holding out for is the acquisition of nine P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft (MPA). A selection of the 737-derived P-8 was announced in November as the UK’s Strategic Defence and Security Review was released, but a contract signing is still pending. To be operated by the Royal Air Force, the CFM International CFM56-powered aircraft are to be acquired via the US government’s Foreign Military Sales mechanism.
Speaking to media at NAS Jacksonville on 9 June, Andy Miller, commander of the US Navy’s VP-30 training squadron, said a so-called maingate decision was expected in June. Further announcements are then likely to be made during Farnborough air show.
The deal, worth a reported £3.3 billion, was authorised by the US state department in March. Contractors for the acquisition will be: ViaSat, GC Micro, Rockwell Collins, Spirit AeroSystems, Raytheon, Telephonics, Pole Zero, Northrop Grumman, Exelis, Terma, Symmetrics, Arnprior Aerospace, General Electric and Martin Baker.
The UK is following Australia, India and the US in its P-8 acquisition, the latter of which has now transitioned half of the Lockheed P-3 Orion units over to operating the new type. VP-30 operates P-8s and P-3s, and RAF personnel have been training on the P-8 at Jacksonville under its Seedcorn MPA capability retainment effort. Defence secretary Michael Fallon also visited the site in May to discuss the introduction of the new type.
“We know what our own six transitions [from P-3 to P-8] look like now… and I spent time with the British contingent last month to outline their transition,” Miller says.
The USN has so far switched all six East Coast squadrons to the P-8, with their six West Coast counterparts to follow in October. On 9 June, the service received its 40th of a contracted 80 P-8s. Its total requirement is for 117 examples, with funding in place for 109.
Source: Flight International