The Origins and Design of the Apache AH-64 Helicopter
The AH-64 Apache Helicopter, originally designed by Hughes in the 1970s, was a response to the Army’s requirement for an advanced attack helicopter. Authorization for production did not occur until 1982, and the Army deployed the first Apache helicopter in 1986. The AH-64A swiftly became the Army’s primary attack helicopter, with the Army putting a total of 824 units into service.
Combat Capabilities and Deployment
One of the significant strengths of the Apache helicopter is its ability to react quickly and engage in close combat, thereby disrupting or halting enemy forces. The Apache’s primary weapon is the AGM-114A Hellfire anti-armor laser-guided missile. The helicopter can carry up to 16 of these deadly weapons. For softer targets, the Apache can also carry unguided 2.75-inch rockets. The Apache features a 30mm M230 Chain Gun for self-protection, and certain AH-64 variants can launch air-to-air missiles. The design of the Apache enables transportation in C-5, C-141, and C-17 airplanes.
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The AH-64 Apache saw substantial deployment during Operation Desert Storm in 1991. Despite initial criticism that the Apache’s performance would be subpar, the helicopter surpassed expectations and achieved a readiness rate of about 90 percent. So formidable was the Apache that the Iraqis dubbed them the “Black Death.” By the end of the war, the AH-64 Apache had destroyed over 500 tanks and hundreds of other vehicles, earning the credit. It then remained in the Middle East to support a protection force for Operation Northern and Southern Watch. Over the years, the Apache has seen extensive action in other operations, including NATO peacekeeping efforts in the former Republic of Yugoslavia and Bosnia, and during the second Gulf War in 2003.
The Evolution: AH-64D Longbow Apache
The desire to enhance the Apache’s capabilities led to the creation of the AH-64D Longbow Apache. This new model features a distinctive, large radar housing mounted above the main rotor disk. This feature, a millimeter-wave fire control radar (FCR), is part of the advanced target acquisition system. The Longbow Apache can detect, classify, prioritize over 128 targets, and transmit data to any other aircraft to coordinate a precision attack—all in just 30 seconds.
In addition to the FCR, the AH-64D model has with more powerful engines, more advanced sensors, including the Pilot Night Vision Sensor (PNVS), an integrated Helmet and Display Sighting System (HADDS) worn by the pilot and co-pilot/gunner, and a fully integrated cockpit with improved communications and navigation. Another significant improvement in the AH-64D model is its increased crashworthiness.
The first AH-64D Longbow Apache was delivered in October 1998 after six prototypes were modified from AH-64As. Currently, a program is underway to upgrade all surviving examples. Tests comparing the AH-64A and AH-64D in similar tasks concluded that the AH-64D Apache Longbow helicopter had 400 percent more lethality and was 720 percent more survivable, making this attack helicopter a formidable presence in any combat situation.