Tata and Boeing are set to break ground on their new facility for the manufacture of the fuselage of the Apache AH-64E attack helicopter in the next couple of months.
The new facility will be run by a joint venture between the two companies. Managing Director and CEO of Tata Advanced Systems Limited (TASL), Sukaran Singh told StratPost last month, “It’s (stake share) 51-49. 51 percent is TASL”.
Boeing’s Bradley Rounding, Senior Manager for Vertical Lift in India told StratPost at DefExpo 2016 that they expected the facility to begin delivery of the fuselages by 2018.
The Indian Air Force (IAF) has ordered 22 Apache AH-64E aircraft from Boeing, delivery of which is expected to begin in 2019, according to Rounding. “Apache’s been in production since 1984. We have many models of that. India will get the most recent – the current model of that – the AH-64E,” he said, adding that delivery of the aircraft to the IAF would begin in 2019.
Rounding explained the improvements in the aircraft, saying, “We’ve put a bit of performance back in the aircraft. We’ve put in an improved drive system. It’s got improved T701D engines. It’s got a composite main rotor blade which altogether give it a lot of performance capability. We designed the composite main rotor blade to have extended life and it does. It’s got three times the life of the metal blade. We also got some performance out of it, as well. We’ve got 20 knots more forward airspeed.”
Boeing has converted many older model Apaches to the ‘E’ model. “We have a very strong remanufacturing capability. So there are about 1,135 Apaches flying today. But many of them have been turned from an ‘A’ model to a ‘D’ model and now from a ‘D’ model to an ‘E’ model. So we have a mixture of new-build and ‘re-manned’ aircraft built at our Philadelphia and Mesa sites,” said Rounding.
The IAF has an option for an additional eleven aircraft. Eleven of the aircraft currently on order will be equipped with the iconic Longbow radar. Once the option is exercised, and if none of the new aircraft are equipped with the radar, the IAF will still effectively have one Longbow radar for every three Apache gunships, a force configuration similar to that of the U.S. Army.
Significantly, the Longbow radar and accompanying Tactical Control Data Link (TCDL) allow aircraft to share targeting information with each other. “The aircraft has a fire control radar on top. It identifies ground and air targets. In the ‘E’ model we’ll also have littoral targets. That data can be shared with other aircraft through a Tactical Control Data Link (TCDL). So not every aircraft has to have that fire control radar to be effective,” said Rounding.
The US Army will train IAF personnel on the aircraft up to the AH-64D standard, following which Boeing will complete their transitional training to the AH-64E model standard. “The U.S. Army school system will do the maintenance training and pilot training up to the ‘D’ model. And then Boeing is under contract for doing differences only from a ‘D’ to ‘E’. ‘D’ to ‘E’ is very little differences in training. We’ve put a lot more capability in the aircraft – we’ve got more performance. They don’t fly it differently. They just have lot more power. Less work for them. So what the U.S.Army does is they have a NET team – New Equipment Training team comes to the unit location and just does little bit of classroom work little bit of flying and that’s it. They’re trained in the ‘E’ model,” Rounding explained.
Boeing has produced over 2,200 Apache gunships across models and 1,135 Apache helicopters are currently in service around the world. The latest Apache AH-64E has also seen service in Afghanistan. India will be the 15th operator of the aircraft. “The U.S.Army has got more than 4.1 million flight hours on the Apache. More than a quarter of that – almost a third of that is in combat flight hours,” said Rounding.