5 min readApache ‘last man standing’ in Indian attack helo trial

The Boeing-built Apache Ah-64D is the only surviving aircraft in the Indian Air Force (IAF) tender for 22 attack helicopters. Charles Burke, Director of Business Development for Boeing’s Global Strike Rotorcraft said at the Dubai Air Show held last week, “Well, we’ve heard from the Indian government that the Apache’s the last man standing. The Indian government and in the press they said that the Apache is the only aircraft that’s being evaluated right now,” explaining, “We looked around – there are no other aircraft. And we know there are no other aircraft and we know that they are talking to us and evaluating our contracts, our proposals and nobody else.”

Earlier this month the US Army took delivery of the first, latest model Block III Apache. Burke says this latest model is also the one being offered to the IAF. The aircraft has also recently demonstrated the ability to allow its pilot to control Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). “The Indian government will get the Block III Apache – all of the improvements.” In fact, the Boeing brought a prototype of the Block III to India to undergo flight trials by the IAF. “We took an aircraft – a prototype of a Block III aircraft that had all the performance enhancements on it – we took it and we flew it in India (for the trials).”

The IAF held trials for the attack helicopter competition in July, 2010. The Russian Mi-28 was also competing in the trials. Recent reports by Russian news agency, Ria Novosti indicated the Mi-28 to have failed the IAF trials, something that StratPost confirmed independently from Russian sources.

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Last year, the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) notified the US Congress of the possible sale of Apache helicopters to India at an estimated cost of USD 1.4 billion.

Boeing shipped the aircraft to India in a commercial 747 and assembled it here. It was flown in India for around two weeks by IAF pilots. “And then, also – last year we brought the Indian pilots into the United States for weapons trials. And we fired a fire and forget missile and we operated the radar and everything,” said Burke.

Declining to speculate on where the competing Russian Mi-28 helicopter might have fallen short, he said, “We did all the missions that they asked and there were no failures.”

Part of the reason for this could be the level of maturity of the aircraft, as described by Burke. “So all of those technology insertions that we have in that aircraft are technologies we’ve been working on since about 1997. We continued to mature all those technologies so by the time it came time to develop a development program in 2005 the technologies – we took them from TRL (Technology Readiness Levels) of about 5 or 6 – we took to TRL levels 9, which means they’re mature enough to put in an aircraft,” he said.

The Longbow radar

The Longbow radar was developed by Longbow LLC, a collaboration between Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman.

The Longbow system – specifically the Longbow is the Longbow radar – the fire control radar which is the dome on top of the aircraft. And that’s a millimeter wave radar that essentially scans the battlefield on a 90 degree arc in front of the aircraft – you can drive it 270 degrees off the nose of the aircraft. And out to eight kilometers ‘cos that’s the range of the missile.

The pilot's station on the Apache.

So it’s 55 square kilometers that the radar radiates and it does it with a two bar scan and it looks for militarily significant targets which will be wheeled vehicles, tracked vehicles, radars, air defense units, helicopters or fixed wing. And then it begins to build track files on all the information it sees, out to 55 square kilometers. And these track files become targets. So it can process 1028 targets. It displays the top 256 of those targets on the multi-functional display so the closest targets (are) on the multi-functional display. It takes the top threatening 16 of those targets, transmits that targeting information to the 16 fire and forget missiles, and it does all that in 6.6 seconds.

The Longbow radar onboard the Apache.

And that aircraft – (also) the reason the US Army has a ratio of radar to attack helicopters is 1 to 3 – can also send that targeting information to three other aircraft in the flight. And when the other aircraft – the other D models get that information, it gets the target files that’s off his nose, that’s oriented in the direction he’s looking. So it does all that in 6.6 seconds.

The flight path

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Burke and his team plan to increase the range of the radar to enable the Apache helicopter to operate below the horizon.

We’re making improvements to that radar to go out out to 16 kilometers. And the army has a program to develop a missile to go out to 16 kilometers. The advantage of that in a flat, desert environment, or over the maritime area: these Apaches generally fly low level, so the altitude they’re flying at the curvature of the earth is about 14 kilometers. So with this radar and with the avionics package you got on it, it’s possible to transmit target information to the aircraft well outside the range of enemy weapons systems. The aircraft can maneuver below the horizon, get to a position of advantage, break the horizon with just the radar – 6.6. seconds – drop below the horizon, fire sixteen hellfire missiles and then go home.

And each of those missiles will go to a specific target that the computer told that missile to go to. And if it’s a moving target, the computer will tell that target is moving from left to right – ‘that’s a tank; it’s on this road’. So in the terminal phase of the missile there’s a millimeter sensor in the nose of the missile. It comes on and it looks at the exact spot in space and altitude and coordinates where that target was supposed to be and if it was moving to the right at eight kilometers an hour then it begins to scan the right until it finds that tank. And then it turns and goes after that tank.

Check out this video of the Apache in operation.

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