Lockheed Martin has received a $15 million contract to start production of a sensor upgrade which, it says, will boost the situational awareness of Boeing AH-64 Apache attack helicopter crews.

Offered as a field retrofit to the Apache's Lockheed-produced Arrowhead modernised target acquisition designation sight/pilot night vision sensor, the VNsight enhancement will blend forward-looking infrared images with those from a new visible/near infrared TV camera.

 AH-64 Apache pair - US Army
© US Army

Attack helicopter crews will now be able to determine laser spots, ground beacons and even vehicle headlights, according to Lockheed. The modification will deliver "significant tactical advantages, safer flying conditions and enhanced mission capability", it says.

 VNsight display - Lockheed Martin
© Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control
VNsight will blend FLIR and low-light TV imagery on one cockpit display

Two US Army Apache battalions will receive the VNsight modification under the service's recent Lot 1 production deal. This totals 65 sensors and associated spares, plus "an initial quantity of cameras and spares" for an undisclosed Foreign Military Sales operator.

Announced early this month, the order follows assessments by US Army personnel. "After thorough testing of this system with pilots experienced in both combat theatres [Afghanistan and Iraq], I am confident that their appraisal of the system as a must-have capability will result in the Apache becoming even more lethal on the battlefield," says Lt Col John Vannoy, the army's Apache sensors product manager.

Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control launched limited series production of the VNsight's lens at its Orlando site in Florida on 1 December 2010, and expects to ship its first equipment in February. The site should complete 22 systems a month once it is at full-rate activity, says Joe Elmer, manager international business development, Apache weapon system.

The VNsight's camera will be produced by Lockheed Martin Mission Systems and Sensors in Akron, Ohio.

The US Army has an active fleet of more than 740 AH-64A/Ds, as listed in Flightglobal's HeliCAS database. A total of more than 200 Apaches are flown by the armed forces of Egypt, Greece, Israel, Japan, Kuwait, the Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, the United Arab Emirates and the UK, it says.

Elmer believes VNsight could also be introduced as part of Lockheed's Pathfinder situational awareness system. Offered for installation on transport helicopters, it repackages elements of the Apache's Arrowhead sensor to provide information to crews flying in degraded visual environments.

The US Army has yet to identify a programme of record for the Pathfinder system, but Lockheed has already conducted flight tests of the design using Bell UH-1 and Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk transports.

Source: Flight International