The US Army hopes to decide towards year-end on the number of Boeing AH-64D Apache helicopters it plans to remanufacture, as well as the mix and quantity of Lockheed Martin Longbow fire control radars needed to equip the fleet.

It originally planned to modernise 748 AH-64As and acquire enough millimetre wave radars to equip 227 of these helicopters. Earlier this year it said it intended scaling this back to 530 AH-64Ds, of which 500 would be fitted with the mast-mounted radar.

With the first battalion of AH-64D now operational, the army has launched a fresh operational analysis of its requirement. "A study in August 1993 determined the optimum mix was one radar for every three aircraft. Now they're saying the study wasn't in-depth enough and are looking at a new mix," says army Longbow product manager Lt Col Ralph Pallotta.

The training and doctrine study is to be concluded by September, but this could slip to the end of the year. This process is being watched closely by Boeing, which is lobbying to modernise a third batch of 218 AH-64As from 2006. Lockheed Martin says it expects to receive a second Longbow order.

Boeing is negotiating a second multi-year contract to modernise 298 AH-64As in 2001-5 as a follow-on to the 232 helicopters being rebuilt. The new deal also includes an option for additional 62 AH-64D upgrades for the army, along with some for foreign military sales.

A key factor in the army's decision will be the cost of maintaining a mixed fleet of AH-64Ds and AH-64As. The latter will replace National Guard Bell AH-1 Cobras. Industry sources claim that remanufacturing all 748 machines will be cheaper than acquiring additional Longbows and having to maintain separate training and logistics support for the two different versions.

Source: Flight International