Boeing / Hughes AH-64 Apache Attack Helicopter
Despite a first flight in 1975, the Boeing AH-64 Apache is still a highly-advanced attack helicopter over the modern battlefield.
Authored By Staff Writer; Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com
The Hughes / McDonnell Douglas / Boeing AH-64 Apache has served American and allied military forces well during her storied operational tenure which officially began in 1986. She went on to see extensive combat actions throughout the 1980s and 1990s across conflicts such as Panama (Operation Just Cause), the Persian Gulf War (Operation Desert Storm) and the Kosovo War as well as more recently being tied to operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Apache is a proven war-winner, having displayed her tank-killing prowess in the Persian Gulf War against the once-formidable armored formations of Saddam Hussein. The Apache family line has amassed over 3 million hours of flight time since its first prototype flight and production of new airframes is still ongoing as of this writing. Over 2,000 Apache attack helicopters have been produced and it is expected that modernization efforts will keep the Apache a viable battlefield implement up through 2020.
The Hughes Name
Hughes Helicopters began operations in 1947 as part of the Hughes Aircraft firm - owned by legendary businessman and aviator Howard Hughes. Hughes Helicopters then came under the Hughes Tool Company in 1955 and was formed into Hughes Helicopter Division as part of the Summa Corporation in 1972. Summa Corporation was started by Howard Hughes after the sale of his Hughes Tool Company that same year (the tool company itself would eventually emerge as "Baker Hughes"). In 1981, Howard Hughes created Hughes Helicopters, Incorporated and, while the AH-64 Apache began life under the "Hughes Helicopters" brand label, the company ultimately became a subsidiary of aviation giant McDonnell Douglas in 1984 and therefore known as McDonnell Douglas Helicopter Systems. In turn, McDonnell Douglas was merged with The Boeing Company in 1997 to become a subsidiary. Today, the AH-64 Apache is formally branded under the Boeing Defense, Space & Security name - or Boeing for short.
The Attack Helicopter
Despite the changing face of the modern battlefield, the attack helicopter has proven time and again to be a critical component to any land-based action. The Vietnam War proved this for the US Army, where transport helicopters were being armed with rockets, cannons, grenade launchers and machine guns and successfully affecting battle outcomes when called. The two-seat Bell AH-1 Cobra dedicated attack helicopter series debuted during the latter stages of the war and further drove home the point through use of rocket pods, triple-barrel cannon, automatic grenade launcher and guided TOW missiles. As attack helicopters are primarily charged with combat actions at low altitudes close to ground fire and other dangers, it becomes highly susceptible to enemy ground fire and thusly viewed as more "fragile" when compared to high-altitude, high-speed fixed-wing aircraft mounts. Despite the ability for strike aircraft to deliver precision weapons at altitude, modern armies still must rely on the precision nature and hovering capabilities of attack helicopters for strike aircraft operate at high speeds and lack adequate loitering times. Thusly, attack helicopters still form a large part of the success of a modern ground force.
When used in conjunction with other equipment - such as the Bell Kiowa Warrior armed scout helicopter or Northrop Grumman E-8 "J-STARS" management aircraft - the Apache is something of reckoning force when fielded in numbers against any enemy. Its weapon suite is top-of-the line even by today's advanced technological standards and able to engage multiple armored targets at distance. At any rate, the Apache remains a reliable and robust battlefield killing machine that can change the tide of any ground battle upon its arrival - given that the crew be well-trained and well-prepared for the mission at hand.
The Cold War Dilemma
Beyond nuclear attack, the major concern throughout the Cold War became the threat of all-out war on the European continent. As a result, both sides dug in for the long winter ahead by building up arms of every sort. Key to the Soviet invasion strategy would have been its large formations of main battle tanks that proved so effective against the mighty German Army in World War 2. During this time in history, Germany was still a divided nation split as an East and West region with a multi-national NATO coalition used in managing to keep the peace throughout Europe.
The United States Army recognized a dire need for a new, highly-capable tank-killing helicopter. The US Army initially headed in the direction of the vaunted Lockheed AH-56 Cheyenne helicopter to serve their needs but resistance on the part of the US Air Force and political wrangling at the government level killed the project in full in August of 1972, leaving just ten completed prototypes to be shipped to museums. That same month, the US Army, looking to improve upon the capabilities of their AH-1 Cobras, moved ahead with the announcement of the Advanced Attack Helicopter (AAH) program with a formal Request for Proposal (RFP) being handed down to interested parties. The end-product would be a technological marvel, capable of engaging enemy tanks with relative ease while offering up top rate survivability in day or night conditions. The primary goal was, of course, to develop an attack helicopter suitable for the rigors of combat across the European landscape.
The Competition Begins
Five notable submissions arose from major American defense contractors that included Bell Helicopter Textron, Boeing-Vertol/Grumman Aerospace, Hughes, Lockheed and Sikorsky. Bell maintained something of an advantage here for it had already delivered the excellent AH-1 Cobra to the US Army during the Vietnam War. Boeing-Vertol had produced various transport helicopters up to now while Hughes had built up a solid reputation for producing helicopters since the 1950s. Lockheed's only major foray into military helicopters became the abandoned Cheyenne project. Sikorsky, on the other hand, had been building aircraft since 1925 and produced their first stable helicopter platform as early as 1942. When all was said and done, Bell seemingly held the edge in the competition.
Of the five powers involved, eventually two were selected to go head-to-head after the announcement of winners from the US Army on June 22, 1973. Bell delivered their "Model 409" which became known to the US Army as the "YAH-63" while Hughes Helicopters proposed their "Model 77", which became the "YAH-64". Each concern would be charged with the construction of two flyable prototypes and a ground test airframe based on the proposed models. The Bell submission was an awkward-looking airframe with some similarities to the original Cobra series. It fitted a tandem cockpit arrangement, nose turret, short stub wings for ordnance, a tricycle wheeled undercarriage and short-masted main rotor blade assembly. The Hughes approach was more ungainly in appearance with its stepped tandem cockpit, short stub wings, a "tail dragger" undercarriage and an underfuselage turret emplacement.
In April of 1975, Bell was ahead of the development curve and operated their ground test prototype for the first time. Under pressure, Hughes engineers worked to deliver their first ground test vehicle - the AV-01 (Air Vehicle 01) - which began its own evaluations in June. Ground test vehicles served to test out the form and function as well as selected powerplants in a relatively controlled environment while not achieving direct flight. On September 30th, 1975, a flyable Hughes YAH-64 recorded its first flight while the Bell prototype, just one day behind, became airborne on October 1st.
Formal evaluations of both systems then began. Company test pilots put the prototypes through the rigors of test flights to accomplish various program milestones. Once cleared by their respective companies, the prototypes were handed over to the US Army for official testing. One major change in the program occurred at this time - the selection of the new HELLFIRE anti-tank missile over that of the long-standing and proven TOW missile series. The HELLFIRE missile would become synonymous with the Apache before long. The YAH-64 was furthermore adjusted to include a revised rotor mast with swept blade tips. A new tail was introduced to lighten the prototype's growing weight. On December 10th, 1976, the announcement came down holding the Hughes submission as the clear winner in the AAH program. This, of course, netted the concern the lucrative defense contract and send the Bell Model 409 to the pages of history. The US Army ordered three production-quality YAH-64 models for weapons and sensor testing while the original pair of prototypes and the single ground test vehicle would be brought up to the new production-quality standard.
In regards to the selected HELLFIRE missile, the US Army trialled a pair of competing targeting systems that would also manage night vision, television and telescoping functionality as well - with their function tied directly to the helmets worn by the pilot and gunner. The two submissions were offered by Martin-Marietta and Northrop. Prototype "AV-02" had the former installed and prototype "AV-03" was given the latter. Testing of the systems in conjunction with the HELLFIRE began in April of 1979 and, in April of 1980, the Martin-Marietta targeting system was selected ahead of the Northrop product.
Unfortunately for the AAH program, AV-04 was lost to an in-air accident after a trailing T-28D observer aircraft crashed with the airborne prototype, killing the two helicopter test pilots on November 20th of 1980. Nevertheless, three YAH-64 airframes were there sent to Fort Hunter-Liggett for further evaluation. The name of "Apache" was then bestowed upon the aircraft by the end of 1981. After clearing additional tests, serial production was approved for the procurement of some 446 Apache helicopters (the US Army originally had planned for 536 machines). Production forms differed from the prototypes mainly in their reworked nose and cockpit profiles. A complicated actuated wing trailing edge feature was also eventually dropped from the design. Political wrangling nearly took its toll on the Apache program but key supporters helped to push the product through to the finish line. The Apache was handed over to the US Army on September 30th, 1983 in a formal ceremony at a Mesa facility that even included a Native American on a white horse with rifle in hand. On January 6th, 1984, Hughes was absorbed by McDonnell Douglas and the MD label now preceded the AH-64 Apache designation. The first operational AH-64A Apache was delivered to the US Army on January 26th, 1984, beginning a long-standing relationship between the Army and the Apache that exists to this day. The first operational unit was then established in 1986 and the last AH-64A US Army Apache was delivered on April 30th, 1996 - after some 821 had already been completed.
AH-64 Apache Walk-Around
In the eyes of most, the Apache was never going to win any awards for beauty in terms of her outward design. She was, after all, a basic weapon of war designed for the battlefields of tomorrow. As such, her design followed inline with utility taking priority over a smooth contoured form - as such she appeared more akin to an insect than any attack helicopter seen before or since its inception. The primary design characteristic remains the stepped tandem-seat cockpit arrangement in which the pilot is seated in the rear and the gunner in the front. The pilot maintained a commanding position over the aircraft and could see ahead of the gunner's position without issue. Entry to both positions was via top-hinged starboard-side door panels for each respective cockpit seat. The targeting system was mounted in a fitting at the nose of the airframe and could pivot left to right to a limited extent. The sides of the forward fuselage were addressed with bulged fairings that house avionics. The M230 Chain Gun was mounted to a structure under the cockpit floor (as opposed to a chin turret as in the AH-1 Cobra before it) and could be rotated and elevated as needed. The rectangular engine pairing were separated by the central fuselage form and fitted well-aft of the crew compartment. The engines powered a drive shaft which, in turn, powered the gear box that sent rotational output to the transmission. From there, the rotation was delivered to the main rotor mast as well as the tail rotors, the latter via a long shaft buried within the empennage (tail boom). The empennage was low-set and also contained the horizontal tail plane (at the extreme aft of the aircraft) as well as the vertical tail fin. The tail fin was also home to a pair of two-bladed tail rotors, these mounted to the portside of the aircraft. This blade arrangement was known as a "double tail" rotor for each two-bladed rotor was set as an individual unit pair on the tail. The main rotor blade was naturally fitted atop a short mast and was four-bladed in nature but noted for its swept tips. These blades were arranged in a conventional "+" formation. Both rotor assemblies could be detached from the body for improved transport. Additionally, the main landing gear legs allowed the Apache to "squat" for stowage aboard aerial transports. The AH-64 family was furthermore cleared as air-transportable by the larger series of American movers including the Lockheed C-5 Galaxy, the Lockheed C-141 Starlifter and the Boeing C-17 Globemaster III.
Apache flight controls were accomplished by way of a conventional collective and cyclic control system. The responses are handled by digital processing as well as hydraulic systems which made the Apache very stable and highly responsive in flight. The original analog readouts of the AH-64A Apache have since given way to a digital twin MFD display which much of the original cockpit readouts being minimized thanks to expanding technology. The rear cockpit is now dominated by two MFDs while the forward cockpit is identified by its shrouded weapons system as well as wide-spaced MFDs. The two forward-most front windscreens also sport windshield wipers for adverse weather conditions.
Steps were taken early on to improve crew survivability and protect key onboard systems considering the inherent nature of Apache missions. The cockpit was protected against ground fire from up to 23mm caliber projectiles and the engines were purposely mounted high and apart from one another along the fuselage sides (as they were in the Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II Close-Air Support aircraft). Double- and triple-redundant flight systems were utilized to protect the crew from falling to a single direct hit that would have otherwise crippled any other helicopter platform. Anti-missile protection was handled by a small chaff/flare box installation fitting along the portside of the tail boom near the vertical tail fin. Warnings to the aircraft of impending ground or aerial threats were sent to the crew via both visual and audio cues allowing for instant recognition. To confront power cables prevalent at low altitudes, the Apache was completed with razor-sharp wire cutters fitted ahead of the gun mount, on each main landing gear leg and atop the pilot's cockpit to "slice" its way through urban environments. In the event of a crash or rough field landing, the crew could take some comfort in knowing that each main landing gear leg was stressed for high impact levels. Additionally, if one crewmember became incapacitated during a mission, redundant cockpit controls meant that the remaining crewmember could take over piloting functions as needed.
The Helmet-Mounted Display
The heart and soul of the Apache's lethality is its Integrated Helmet and Display Sighting System (IHADSS) helmet-mounted displays afforded to both gunner and pilot positions. Each operator can connect directly into the M203 Chain Gun and aim at targets by a simple turn of the head. What the helmet display sees can also be recorded (up to 72 minutes of footage) to an in-flight recording suite for playback in after-mission debriefings. Night operations are conducted with night vision equipment integrated through a Forward-Looking InfaRed (FLIR) system. The night vision component is fitted to the pivoting nose installation with the pilot's component mounted along the top of the installation and the gunner's component along the bottom. The television camera is also fitted in the nose.
Apache Armament - the Hughes M230 Chain Gun
Standard armament for the Apache line consists of the underside-mounted Hughes 30mm M230E1 Chain Gun. The M230 series is a devastating automatic weapon, particularly when fielded against light armored vehicles and concentrations of enemy troops at close ranges. Up to 1,200 rounds of 30mm high-explosive, dual-purpose projectiles can be carried aloft. The M230 can be "slaved" to each crewmember's helmet display or left to be aimed by the onboard Target Acquisition and Designation System (TADS). Alternatively, it can also be stowed in a fixed-forward position during travel, transportation or landing. Manual control of the M230 is also offered. The firing operation of the M230 is handled by an electric motor which manages the "chain" of ammunition - essentially a belt feed from the magazine store to the firing chamber. Spent 30mm cartridges are jettisoned automatically away from the gun system and aircraft. The gun mount itself is rotated and elevated by computer-controlled hydraulics. The M230 is rated at 600 to 650 rounds per minute.
The Apache also makes use of four underwing hardpoints (two hardpoints to a stub wing) for which to carry all manner of external stores to include missiles, rocket pods and external fuel for extended ranges. Its wingstubs are designed to automatically adjust their relative forward angle for when the helicopter is in flight or resting, allowing for proper attack/launch angles and access by munitions personnel when on the ground.
The AGM-114 HELLFIRE Missile
The primary weapons system common to the Apache family line is the Lockheed Martin AGM-114 HELLFIRE fire-and-forget missile - a proven tank-killer that has found more general use in today's world. The name of "Hellfire" stems from the collective wording of "HELicopter-Launched FIRE-and-forget" (note capital letters). The HELLFIRE is also utilized by the armed Predator series of unmanned drones to target key terrorist operatives. Each HELLFIRE weighs in at just over 100lbs and features a running length of 64 inches with a 7-inch diameter. The HELLFIRE comes in two distinct "flavors" meant to tackle different targets of opportunity - High-Explosive Anti Tank (HEAT) and Metal Augmented Charge (MAC). The HEAT warhead is 20lbs and rated for use against heavily armored targets such as main battle tanks while the MAC warhead is 18lbs and shaped-charge in nature, useful for when blast fragmentation is the call of the day. The Apache can mount up to 16 HELLFIRE missiles across its four stub wing hardpoints, each conveniently paired in 4 x rail launchers.
In their original form, HELLFIREs relied on a laser seeker warhead that would have the missile follow a laser beam to a given target meaning that line-of-sight (LOS) to the target was imperative. Of course this opened the missile to losing its target if traveling through cloud coverage or line-of-sight was broken at some point, the laser beam being "dropped" as a result, leaving the HELLFIRE as a weapon without a master. The improved HELLFIRE II was designed around a radar seeking system that utilized radio waves to bypass interference from clouds, simply having the missile follow the target information reading given off by the Apache's radar system. This provided the later Apache Longbow with a helpful "pop and shoot" capability.
The secondary weapon system commonly associated with attack helicopters is the rocket pod. These cylindrical assemblies are the launch tubes for multi-purpose unguided rockets that can be used against soft targets and enemy concentrations. The Apache makes use of the "Hydra 70" series Folding-Fin Aerial Rocket (FFAR) available in 19-shot pods. Each rocket is 70mm in caliber (2.75 inches), weighs 13.6lbs and feature spring-loaded stabilizing fins that open upon clearing the launcher. There are also a variety of warhead types to suit mission needs including High-Explosive, White Phosphorus, Red Phosphorus, High-Explosive Anti Tank (HEAT), Flechette, illumination, smoke and practice rounds. As these systems are unguided in their nature, the Apache gunner simply aims the helicopter in the direction of the target area. FFAR have ranges out to 11,500 yards but are deemed more effective within 9,000 yards. Such rockets have been a staple of US Army helicopters since the Vietnam War proved their worth on gunships.
Apache Air-to-Air Weaponry
It was only later in its life cycle that the thought was given to arm Apaches with air defense weaponry in the form of missiles. The US Army trialled both the AIM-9 Sidewinder short-ranged air-to-air missile and the newer AIM-92 Stinger short-ranged missile system to which the Stinger family earned the upper hand. The Apache can fit such launchers (in an ATAS twin-missile launching setup) at the tips of its wingstubs and add a certain amount of point defense against marauding aerial enemy threats - including enemy helicopters and low-flying fixed-wing aircraft. The European "Starstreak" air-to-air missile may feature into the mix in the near future.
The AGM-122 Sidearm, an anti-radiation missile system was trialled in the 1980s but not formally accepted as standard Apache ordnance. The Sidearm would have been used by Apache teams to destroy enemy ground-based radar installations, effectively blinding enemy forces. Each Apache could be fitted with four such missiles and would have lead the way for other attack-minded Apache helicopters in a massed combined assault.
Common Apache Armament Loadouts
As mission type dictates munition loadouts, the Apache features a preset showcase of armament loadouts that coincide with mission requirements. For the base anti-armor role, she would be fielded with 8 x AGM-114 HELLFIRE missiles each capped with anti-tank warheads. There would also be 320 rounds of 30mm ammunition for the M230 Chain Gun. The lighter weapons load would ensure a rate-of-climb in the vicinity of 1,450 feet per minute and a mission duration time nearing 2 hours - allowing the Apache to stay aloft longer and react quickly to incoming enemy threats.
For the multi-role "covering force" sortie, the Apache would field a mix of 8 x AGM-114 HELLFIRE missiles and up to 38 x FFAR rockets in 2 19-shot pods. This would ensure that the Apache crew could deal with all manner threats that the ground elements might encounter. The M230 would be fitted with its full complement of 1,200 rounds of 30mm ammunition. The full loadout, of course, would dictate a lower rate-of-climb. Mission time for this loadout would, however, be increased to 2.5 hours.
For when ground elements might encounter armored threats, the Apache would be sent aloft with a full complement of 16 x AGM-114 HELLFIRE anti-tank missiles. Its M230 Chain Gun would sport a full load of 1,200 rounds of 30mm ammunition. During ground support sorties calling the Apache to escort forces, the system would be armed with 4 x 19-shot FFAR launchers for a grand total of 76 unguided rockets.
Operators of the Apache - beyond the United States - went on to include the armies of Egypt, Greece, Israel, Japan (as the AH-64DJP), Kuwait, Netherlands, Taiwan, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom in both AH-64A and AH-64D model forms. The United States has remained the largest global operator of the type followed by the United Kingdom. To date, 1,174 examples of this excellent attack helicopter have been produced by Hughes/McDonnell Douglas/Boeing in the US and AgustaWestland in the UK.
The initial production model of the Apache became the AH-64A. She was originally fitted with a pair of General Electric T-700-701 series turboshaft engines developing 1,696 shaft horsepower each but this was later updated to T700-701C series models in 1990. At least 937 AH-64A models were produced in the span of 1984 and 1997 for the United States Army, Egypt, Greece, Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Japan based their AH-64DJP Apache on the AH-64A production model.
The AH-64D Apache standard became the latest and most potent form of the Apache lineage and consisted of modified AH-64A production models. The type began deliveries in 1997 and has since come under two distinct forms known as the "AH-64D Apache" and the "AH-64D Apache Longbow". Both were fitted with a pair of General Electric T700-701C series turboshaft engines and the first AH-64D Apache Longbow unit was formed in November of 1998 followed by the first overseas AH-64D Apache Longbow unit established in October of 2001. The differentiating feature between these two forms became the Apache Longbow's installation of the mast-mounted AN/APG-78 "Longbow" millimeter radio-wave based Fire Control Radar (FCR) system that improved target tracking and engagement concerning the HELLFIRE missile - allowing combat in all-weather environments, through heavy smoke and in low-light conditions. The system allowed the Apache crew to spot targets (stationary or in transit) while remaining concealed behind tree lines and buildings, "popping up" only to engage. The system could detect up to 1,024 individual targets, prioritize 128 of the most potentially dangerous to the aircraft and assess the top 16 threats accordingly for the crew - all this within just 60 seconds. The system worked in conjunction with an onboard database of known enemy elements so target recognition was streamlined to a high degree. The system then related pertinent information to the cockpit panels for both pilot and gunner to assess.
The mast-mounted FCR is fitted to the extreme top of the rotor mast which enables it to look over the Apache airframe itself while providing for a commanding view of the terrain around the aircraft without exposing the aircraft to unseen dangers. A shared data stream between Longbows means that any formation helicopter can engage an identified target being tracked by a primary Longbow. Many battlefield issues and onboard functions of the Longbow are also presented to the crew in real-time. It is only when the "Longbow" FCR installation is fitted to the AH-64D that this Apache becomes known as the "Apache Longbow" - also becoming one of the most feared attack helicopters in the world. Additional improvements have since resulted in components being added aircraft, requiring the side fuselage fairings to be increased slightly. AH-64D customers have become Egypt, Greece, Israel, Japan, Kuwait, Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom. The Netherlands became the first foreign operator of the AH-64D Apache model.
The AH-64D "Block III" upgrade (to be fielded in the latter part of 2011 into 2012) will field a pair of General Electric T700-701D engines of 2,000 shaft horsepower powering a new composite main rotor blade which will improve overall performance. VNsight low-level TV will improved low-level vision at night for the crew. Landing gear legs have been further revised and reinforced for improved operational ruggedness and emergency landings. Additionally, data sharing between systems has been streamlined for the better and UAV control from within the Apache cockpit has been introduced.
In November of 2012, the US Army officially designated the AH-64D Block III as the AH-64E. Boeing facilities will produce some 690 for the US Army in addition for more E-models for foreign customers. Boeing expects a production rate of seven units per month. Upgrade customers will include India, Taiwan, Qatar and Indonesia.
The British AgustaWestland WAH-64 Apache
The British Army selected the AH-64 Apache as their mainstay attack helicopter after evaluation of it and the competing Eurocopter (Airbus Helicopters) Tiger. The British designates their AH-64s as "WAH-64" and production was undertaken via license through the Italian-British concern of AgustaWestland. The British opted to replace the General Electric engines of the original American design with more powerful British-based Rolls-Royce Turbomeca RTM322 engines of 2,100 shaft horsepower. Additionally, WAH-64s feature folding rotor blades to allow for storage aboard Royal Navy vessels as needed. The AH-64D Apache Longbow in the British inventory is designated as the "AH Mk 1" and was first unveiled in September of 1998. Training of British Apache crews was conducted at Fort Rucker.
The Unused B- and C-Model Designations
The unused Apache designations of "B" and "C" reflect abandoned proposed upgrades of existing AH-64A production models. The AH-64B would have been a post-Gulf War program with improvements throughout (including a new cockpit and rotor blades) but was shelved in 1992 amidst improved technologies becoming available. Likewise, the AH-64C was to feature updates similar to those as found on what would be the final AH-64D form (sans for the mast-mounted FCR and improved powerplants) but the designation itself was dropped in 1993 and, therefore, AH-64Ds would emerge in two forms - one with and without the expected engine upgrade and mast-mounted FCR. Existing AH-64A models received the proposed engine upgrades that would have been a part of the AH-64C standard.
Apaches in the Gulf
While initially debuted in combat during Operation Just Cause (along with the Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk stealth fighter), the Apache undoubtedly proved itself without question in the 1991 Persian Gulf War. After Saddam Hussein's army invaded the oil rich nation of neighboring Kuwait, a coalition force led by the United States formed to oust the dictator. At the time, Iraq boasted the fourth largest army in the world with many Soviet-Russian tanks to her name, providing fertile ground for tank-killers such as the Apache and the Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II. Early-strike sorties of Operation Desert Storm involved Apaches destroying Iraqi ground-based radar installations ahead of main forces to blind the enemy to their approach. This action, in fact, represented the first strikes against the Iraqi Army in the whole of the war.
The ground war lasted all of 100 hours and Apaches played a critical role in neutralizing Iraqi ground actions. No fewer than 277 Apaches were fielded in the conflict to the loss of just one airframe (via RPG hit with the crew surviving the landing). Apaches netted hundreds of enemy tanks and armored vehicles in the foray, making the AH-64 one of the most valuable military weapons of the conflict. A massive retreating convoy became the talk of news sources as pictures detailed the hurried exit by Iraq forces under the guns of coalition air forces. The conflict also served to showcase the limited reach of the Soviet-inspired defenses and equipment that were highly-touted before the war began. In the end, Hussein's forces were ousted from Kuwait and world oil supplies coming from the region were secured.
Apaches in Afghanistan
Apache crews were placed in harm's way once again, this time in the US invasion of Afghanistan following the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Once the threat of armored forces had been neutralized and coalition involvement grew, Apaches were relegated to "lighter" munitions loads for countering the ill-equipped Taliban and Al Qaeda forces. As such, US Army Apaches were/are generally fielded without their Longbow mast-mounted Fire Control Radar sights and applicable equipment. One Apache has since been shot down in the conflict to date while several received damage from ground-based fire (either missiles or cannon) though each managing to return safely to base - owing much to the Apache's robust design.
Apaches back in Iraq
After a limited engagement in the Kosovo War, where Apaches faced a period of grounding after the loss of one AH-64 due to a mechanical failure with its tail rotor, the helicopter was back at work over Iraq as part of 2003's Operation Iraqi Freedom. This time, however, the results were not as impressive as the effort previously for several AH-64s were lost to action with at least one Apache crew being taken prisoner. Overall, a dozen Apaches have been lost in the follow-up conflict in Iraq.
Alongside the United States, the nation of Israel has done much with its AH-64A and AH-64D Apache mounts since first receiving the helicopter in September of 1990. The Apache staffs the 113th "Hornet" Squadron (Ramon AB) and the 190th "Magic Touch" Squadron (Ramon AB). To date, the Israeli Army maintains at least 37 AH-64A models with a further 11 AH-64D models in its stable and designates the former as "Peten" ("Cobra") and the latter as "Saraph" ("Serpent"). Operations of the type has seen it cross swords with elements of Hezbollah on more than a few occasions - particularly when there arises a need for precision strikes against high value targets within an urban environment.
For a short time in the 1980s, a navalized version of the Apache was entertained by the United States Navy and United States Marine Corps. However, no definitive form moved on and the "Sea Apache" fell to the pages of history. Regardless, the British do utilized their WAH-64s - modified slightly - on their navy surface vessels, proving the Sea Apache form as somewhat viable.
At one point, it was envisioned that the Boeing / Sikorsky RAH-66 light attack helicopter would have served side-by-side with Apache Longbows in the US Army. Cancellation of the RAH-66 occurred in 2004 and the vision fell to naught with just two prototypes to show for the effort. The program cost American tax payers $6.9 billion.
In September of 2015 it was announced that the United States and India had agreed to a deal involving the sale of 22 AH-64E Apache models which includes local production of certain components. The deal also includes 15 Boeing CH-47 F Chinook tandem-rotor heavy-lift transport helicopters.
In June of 2016 it was announced that Qatar had inked a deal with Boeing for 24 AH-64E "Guardian" models.
July 2016: At Farnborough 2016, the UK MoD committed to the purchase of the AH-64E Apahce attack helicopter model. Fifty units will be procured through the deal.
October 2016: Citing funding issues, the United States Army has indicated that it will not follow-up on an AH-64F production model offered by Boeing. The F-model was to bridge the gap between the earlier AH-54 forms and the upcoming winner of the Future Vertical Lift program. The Army is set to continue purchasing AH-64s into 2020 with official production ending sometime in mid-decade.
March 2017 - Boeing has secured a five-year deal with the United States Army to supply the service with 244 AH-64E helicopters. A further 24 units have been approved for an unnamed export customer (assumed to be Qatar from a June 2016 agreement).