New U.S. Army Apache Mods Focus On Power And Agility

Boeing’s Modernized Apache concept

Development of Boeing’s Modernized Apache concept would require new sensors and weapons.

Credit: Boeing

The U.S. Army’s Apache program and contractors have a series of upgrades planned for the gunship in the near term, including the first upgrade to the gunship’s tail-rotor system, as the service’s headquarters pushes off decisions for increased buys or bigger modernizations until after the Future Vertical Lift program progresses.

The Army has ordered a new composite tail rotor and driveshaft from Boeing for its Apache fleet to be able to harness increased horsepower from the upcoming GE Aerospace T901 engine. That powerplant also is planned to be used in the upcoming Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) program. The current helicopter variant, the AH-64E Version 6, is heavier and more capable than the original AH-64A that rolled off the production line in 1983 and thus has lost some of its directional control, says Col. John Maher, the Army’s Apache program manager.

  • New Lockheed turret increases accuracy and cuts lag
  • The service is not interested in more aircraft—for now

The service in October awarded Boeing a $54 million contract to develop a new tail-rotor driveshaft along with a separate sustainment effort designed to see the current metal tail rotor replaced by a new composite one. Boeing says the contract is an “enabler” for the T901 engine but would not expand on the work.

The Apache’s current tail rotor is not meeting sustainment targets and is limiting the agility of the Apache. Program officials are looking at about a four-year development effort, with some phases already funded including the recent award, Maher says.

“So it allows you to harness . . . additional horsepower of the T901, but also when coupled with a new tail-rotor blade, which is also a sustainment initiative, you’re going to buy back directional control margin,” Maher told Aviation Week Oct. 11 on the sidelines of the Association of the United States Army (AUSA) conference in Washington.

To start to integrate the T901 engine and get through operational testing, Boeing is under contract to develop a new Version 6.5 software suite for the helicopter. But that is just the beginning, with another “6.5X” to follow that will be needed to field the T901 and integrate new systems such as radars and improved targeting and pilotage systems, Maher says.

The Army and Lockheed Martin have developed a next-generation turret for the Apache fleet, too. It is slated to begin operator evaluation in the spring. The current turret system also dates back to the Apache’s beginnings and has become a maintenance problem—taking 18 hr. to replace. Lockheed says the new turret will have a 90% reduction in flight line maintenance, 15% cut in costs and 40% jump in reliability. The modernized turret also is intended to eliminate the 0.5-1-sec. lag that pilots and gunners experience with the existing system, Lockheed says.

The Army has procured 26 of the turrets and plans to install them on aircraft with the 151st Aviation Regiment with the South Carolina Army National Guard. The unit plans to start a 12-month operators’ evaluation in March to guide the Army’s procurement decision.

Looking further ahead, Boeing at AUSA unveiled its Modernized Apache concept for future AH-64s, with an eye on multidomain operations plus new sensors and weapons. Implementation of the concept calls for the use of two T901s, an open system interface and increased weapons capacity but not greater range.

Boeing and the Army are in negotiations over what is expected to be the last multiyear order for a base of 96 helicopters over four years, which is expected to be finalized this fall. Boeing says it is working to convince the Army to buy more, given that the production line is set to end in 2029-30. This includes recent major international orders, such as Poland’s announcement that it intends to buy 96 as well (AW&ST Sept. 26-Oct. 9, p. 20).

The Army will take a lot of convincing, however. The service’s top aviation priorities are the Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft and FARA. The former is expected to enter service in 2030 and the latter after that. The need for more Apaches, or even further upgraded aircraft beyond the current modernization plans, is “not as great,” says Rodney Davis, acting deputy program executive officer for aviation. A decision beyond Version 6.5 or an increased buy would be made around 2030, he says, as the Army works on higher priorities first.

Brian Everstine

Brian Everstine is the Pentagon Editor for Aviation Week, based in Washington, D.C. Before joining Aviation Week in August 2021, he covered the Pentagon for Air Force Magazine. Brian began covering defense aviation in 2011 as a reporter for Military Times.