Arrival of Apache AH-64E heralds new era in modern British military aviation

Posted on 10 December, 2020 by Advance 

The first two new Apache Attack Helicopters (AH-64E variant) have been delivered to the British Army from the US Government, arriving at Wattisham Flying Station on 26th November with Aviation Technicians from 7 Aviation Support Battalion, Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (7 Avn Spt Bn REME), who will maintain and service the new aircraft.

Image courtesy British Army

A fleet of AH-64E Version 6 aircraft, the most advanced variant of Apache, have been procured from the United States to replace the Apache AH Mark 1, which reaches its Out of Service Date in 2024.

These Boeing built new aircraft will enable the UK to maintain its battle-winning Attack Helicopter capability for decades to come thanks to its improved digital capability. The new aircraft is already in service with the US Army and other defence forces and has been designed and equipped to offer common configuration.

First UK flying is anticipated to commence in July 2021. Initially, this will be focused on trials activity and then on developing instructional techniques to safely manage aircrew transition from Mark 1 to E-model. The focus will then change to the full rate conversion training of 3 Regiment Army Air Corps (3AAC).

Prior to commencement of flying, the full Air System Safety Case will be rigorously tested to ensure it can support safe flying. This will include Quality Assurance and airworthiness tasks by 7 Bn, plus certification by the UK Military Aviation Authority, assurance of aircraft documentation, simulators, training and instructors.

AH-64E will deliver a significant enhancement to the UK's 1st Aviation Brigade

New engines, drivetrain, main rotor blades and avionics will deliver a significant boost in aircraft performance.  Embedded system-level diagnostics will increase aircraft availability.  Extended range Fire Control Radar with maritime mode will ensure the aircraft can operate in the maritime environment. Link 16, Mode 5 Identification Friend or Foe and, in time, Manned-Unmanned Teaming bring theatre entry-standard equipment fits and vastly increase crew battle-space awareness.

Brigadier Steve Hussey, Head of Capability Air Manoeuvre, said: “While there is still some way to go before the Army’s modernised Attack Helicopter capability reaches full operational status, the arrival of the first Apache E Model in the UK is a major programme milestone that has been achieved despite the impact of COVID-19.”

Artificer Sergeant Major Brian Slinn, 7 Avn Spt Bn REME, said: “Bringing a new aircraft into service, especially one as impressive as the AH-64E is an exciting prospect that doesn’t happen every day. The REME personnel from 7 Bn and 3 Regt AAC understandably are chomping at the bit to finally get the process under way.”

Brigadier Paul Tedman CBE, Commander 1 Aviation Brigade, said: “I’m delighted to see the first AH-64E arrive in the UK; it’s a significant waypoint on our journey to a modernised Apache capability.  As the Aviation Brigade grows towards its own Full Operating Capability in 2023, AH-64E will team with Wildcat and provide the backbone of its capability.  The next few years represent hugely exciting times for the Joint Helicopter Command and the Brigade.”

The UK has strived to make the aircraft best value for money by utilising a large amount of parts from the Apache Mark 1, which reduces production costs and aims to be more environmentally sustainable. Plus, the new aircraft will be easier to maintain and more reliable, so that it will be more straightforward to sustain in any operational environment.

Maj Gen Jez Bennett, Director Capability, said: “The arrival of the first Apache E Model Attack Helicopter to be delivered to the British Army over the next two years marks the beginning of a significant uplift in capability to enhance the Army’s contribution across the spectrum of military operations.

“From supporting hostage rescue missions, to countering an adversaries’ anti-access, area denial platforms, the Apache E outstrips the outgoing Mark 1 aircraft by increased platform digitalisation, improved weapons and avionics, and the ability to use the latest and future technology to enable teaming with semi-autonomous systems such as UASs.”

Air Commodore Owen Barnes, DE&S Boeing helicopters portfolio manager, said: “DE&S is delighted to have brought the Apache Capability Sustainment Programme to this significant milestone. It represents the continued dedication and hard work of the team, in close collaboration with our Army customer, to deliver the best capability to our armed forces.”