T he Indian Air Force (IAF) began trials for the AH-64D Apache Longbow attack helicopter last week. IAF sources confirmed that the aircraft, which is competing with the Russian Mi-28 for the IAF’s tender for 22 attack helicopters, has already completed trials in Jaisalmer and is currently undergoing high altitude, flight and maneuverability demonstrations at Leh.
The trials are expected to continue till the end of next week, after which the Mi-28 is expected to be given a similar once-over. The maintenance and weapons trials of the former will be conducted in the United States in the coming weeks.
Dean Millsap of Boeing Rotorcraft Systems, told visiting Indian media in Philadelphia in May that the company had crash-tested the aircraft to a drop-speed of 40 feet per second. The company is pitching its ballistically-tolerant structure, which can withstand an impact up to 23 millimeters, to emphasize the survivablility of the aircraft. The aircraft also has self sealing, Kevlar armor-protected fuel cells under the pilot’s seat, as well as a system to deploy nitrogen gas to starve any outbreak of fire of oxygen, called nitrogen-inerting crash resistant fuel cells. Both, pilot as well as gunner, have the benefit of the night vision generated by FLIR (Forward Looking Infra Red) sensor. But Boeing expects the Longbow radar on the Apache to end the argument. The radar dome, which has a millimeter wave radar, is located on top of the main rotor allowing optimum detection capability. The aircraft can also digitally share information on targets with other aircraft and systems.
Interestingly, Boeing has developed a capability in the Apache to control Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV). While so far this ability is restricted to control over a single UAV, the company is building systems to allow airborne control over multiple UAVs. So far this is not a capability that has been offered to or requested by the IAF.
The first of the Apache Block III are expected to be delivered in October next year and deployed with the first US Army units by June 2012.
The trials for the IAF’s requirement for 15 heavy lift helicopters are also expected to begin after the Apache, on July 27, with the Chinook being put through its paces at Chandigarh, where it has already arrived, and Leh. Both the Apache and the Chinook were brought to India by C-17 aircraft, possibly to quietly underline the capabilities of the strategic lifter, ten of which are also being considered for purchase by the IAF, after it underwent trials last month.