paul lewis / washington dc

Funding is to be focused on accelerating production of the RAH-66 Comanche instead of AH-64D improvements

The US Army is to focus funding on near-term Boeing AH-64D Apache Longbow recapitalisation fixes and, perhaps, on accelerating production of the Boeing Sikorsky RAH-66 Comanche, rather than on further major upgrades to the Apache which will be replaced by the Comanche.

Boeing has proposed a wide range of AH-64D improvements to extend the helicopter's operational service to 2030. This encompasses a new gearbox, five-blade main rotor, composite structures and elements of the Rotorcraft Pilot Associate computer system to cut operating costs and improve performance.

The army's recent decision to replace the Apache with Comanche as its future objective force attack helicopter has pushed many of these improvements to the backburner. Funding that had been earmarked for a new rotor drive is being diverted into addressing 29 more pressing reliability and sustainability issues, says Maj Gen Joe Bergantz, US Army aviation programme executive officer.

Funding will be used instead to equip the army's 741 AH-64A/Ds with Lockheed Martin Arrowhead forward-looking infrared imagers and on selected component recapitalisation to extend the airframe's fatigue life to 4,500h. The latter would require the army's oldest AH-64As to be pushed through the D remanufacturing process, of which 501 have been funded to date, in order to hold the average fleet age to 10 years by 2010.

Future Apache investment will be determined by the Comanche schedule. The Apache is due for replacement by 2027, but this could be advanced if the US Army decides to accelerate its planned buy of 1,213 RAH-66s from 62 machines a year to 96. "That gets us completely outfitted six years earlier and saves some $3 billion," adds Bergantz.

Boeing remains convinced the army will need to invest in the AH-64, particularly given growth in the Apache's weight and the shortage of uprated General Electric T700-701C engines to power the 227 helicopters being fitted with Longbow fire control radar. "We're not backing off from the advanced drive system," says Boeing.

Source: Flight International