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Israel ditches Apache upgrade plan, commits to CH-53K

The Israeli air force has decided against upgrading more of its Boeing AH-64A Apache attack helicopters to the manufacturer's Longbow configuration, citing budget restrictions.

Rather than modify its legacy aircraft to the D-model standard, the service will instead equip the type with new weapons, the air force says. One of the systems under consideration is a locally made laser-guided rocket.

Israel's active inventory of new and rebuilt AH-64Ds totals 17 aircraft, with Flightglobal's HeliCAS database listing the service as also operating 30 A-model Apaches.

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The upgrade path had been considered in preference to buying new aircraft from Boeing. But despite the decision not to proceed, a senior air force source says the service's current fleets of Apaches and Bell AH-1 Cobras are able "to do the missions" required.

Meanwhile, the air force will continue to operate its current Sikorsky CH-53 transport helicopters until it can acquire the next-generation CH-53K. All other alternatives "were evaluated and dismissed", an air force source says.

Israel is already conducting a 2025 upgrade programme to its CH-53s, and the source says: "If needed we will prolong the life of this excellent platform until its successor is ready."

The US Marine Corps has a requirement for 200 CH-53Ks, with the service expecting the programme to undergo its critical design review "this summer".

Sikorsky should fly its first prototype in fiscal year 2013, with deliveries to the USMC anticipated to start in FY2015-16 and initial operating capability to be declared in 2018.

© Sikorsky

To be powered by three General Electric GE38-1 engines, the CH-53K will have a maximum take-off weight of 39,900kg (88,000lb).

Separately, Israel has held preliminary talks with Lockheed Martin about acquiring more C-130J tactical transports. The nation will receive its first example in mid-2013 under a $98 million contract confirmed in April, with its initial requirement also covering a further two.

"We want to include additional C-130Js in the next multi-year procurement programme of the Israeli defence forces," a senior air force source confirms. The service has previously outlined a requirement for six stretched-fuselage C-130J-30s to replace its remaining C-130Es.

Additional reporting by Craig Hoyle in London
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