While the US Army steps up the pace of its aviation modernisation plan for the battlefield of 2030 and beyond, the service is concurrently enabling its legacy fleet – the AH-64E APACHE in particular – to be a more lethal and capable weapons platform well into the next decade.
The upcoming Version 6 (V6) upgrade to the AH-64E will enhance many systems on the aircraft, including its weapon system sensor suite. Of significance, during the service’s recent Follow-On Test and Evaluation II of the V6 APACHE, Lockheed Martin’s Tom Eldredge (Director, APACHE Fire Control Programs) and Jim Messina (Director, LONGBOW Fire Control Radar), reported the attack helicopter demonstrated upgraded target acquisition capabilities, including the company’s Modernized Day Sensor Assembly (M-DSA), and the AN/APG-78 LONGBOW Fire Control Radar (FCR) from LONGBOW Limited Liability, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman.
“Providing enhanced situational awareness, the M-DSA capability included in the V6 upgrade helps APACHE pilots to see either colour or near-infrared, high-resolution imagery on cockpit displays, and allows them to accurately identify targets at greater standoff ranges using the ultra-narrow field-of-view and the extended range picture-in-picture capability,” the company told MON.
Additionally, the US Army recently awarded Lockheed Martin a $40.6 million (€36.9 million) contract to produce Modernized Turrets (M-TUR) for the AH-64E, another upgrade to the Modernized Target Acquisition Designation Sight/Pilot Night Vision System (M-TADS/PNVS) system, bringing enhanced operational and performance capabilities.
More specifically, the Version 6 APACHE will include 30 additional enhancements to FCR capabilities. These enhancements will provide new operational modes and capabilities, including maritime, single target track and 360° surveillance modes as well as extended detection range capability against land, air and sea targets. The V6 detection range has doubled, to 16km, along with improved detection of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV).
The company executives called attention to select FCR updates:
• Maritime Mode – detects surface targets as well as helicopter and fixed wing targets;
• Air Targeting Mode – adds detection of UAVs, automatic scanning of multiple elevations and improved target detection in adverse weather conditions;
• Single Target Track for Air, Ground and Maritime Targeting; and
• Extended Range (XR) – doubles Ground Targeting Mode, Air Targeting Mode and Maritime Mode range from 8m to 16km.
Lockheed Martin has invested in modifications across all its upgraded designs, including M-TUR and M-DSA, to enhance reliability and maintainability.
As previously alluded to, “M-DSA will be included in the V6 APACHE upgrade, further improving search, location, identification, targeting and engaging capabilities during both day and night operations. M-DSA allows APACHE pilots to identify and designate targets at longer ranges, increasing standoff […] The M-TUR upgrade noted earlier provides increased angular rates and accelerations, and allows for increased line-of-sight stabilization. In addition to sensor performance improvement, the new M-TUR design also improves turret reliability by 40 percent and reduces operation and support costs with a dramatic decrease in time required to conduct flight line maintenance – in some cases by more than 12 hours.”
Further, the M-TUR’s new design allows for:
• Subassembly replacement on the flight line, including higher reliability components that will improve aircraft availability; and
• Significant improvements to slew rate, helmet tracking and Built-In Testing (BIT).
“Lockheed Martin’s integrated sensors are designed to work together to help the aircrew detect and identify potential targets on the ground, at sea, or in the air. Our weapon system sensors provide unmatched survivability, supporting a wide range of missions including reconnaissance, patrol and a diversity of combat missions from small scale, close air support for ground forces, to high intensity battlefield combat against enemy air defense units and armored vehicles.”
To date, more than 1,400 M-TADS/PNVS systems and spares have been delivered to the US Army and 16 international customers in 15 nations and nearly 500 LONGBOW FCR systems have been delivered to the US Army and 13 international customers in 12 nations.