Hughes AH-64A APACHE gallery 2

Along with the previous package of improvements and modifications, in 1988 a complete improvement program began to be studied that would end in a new variant known as the AH-64B Advanced Apache. This program included improvements in avionics, electronics and optronics, as well as modifications to the airframe and wings, with the incorporation of what was known as “wet wing”. This last modification consisted of transforming the wings into integrated fuel tanks, thereby avoiding having to carry external fuel tanks in the underwing pylons. This greatly improved autonomy on long journeys and weapons loading on distant missions.
The AH-64B also had great improvements regarding crew survivability. It was intended to install chemical and biological air contamination warning devices, a new air filtration system, a new air conditioning system for use with protective suits and eye protection for the crew members against laser lights through a new visor installed in the helmet. They also wanted to install a new “fly by wire” digital flight control system and replace the analog instrumentation with video screens in the gunner’s cockpit, as well as improve the capabilities of the Helmet Mounted Display System.
To complete the improvement package of the B variant, it was going to be installed a controller for electronic functions through voice, multifunction touch screens, a keyboard to enter updated data on the battlefield into the computer and a new program for the fire control computer to automatically operate the radar warning system, the IR jammer and the missile warning system, along with a new acoustic alert that warned when the helicopter was illuminated by a laser tergeting system.
The combat systems of the AH-64B Advanced Apache were also going to be improved with the installation of a new Airborne Adverse Weather Weapons System (AAWWS). This system was manufactured by Martin Marietta/Westinghouse and consisted of a mast mounted milimiter wavelength radar that was inside a dome. This 80 kg dome was located on top of the main rotor and offered targeting recognition, ground and air to air targeting and limited terrain mapping. With the radar placed in this position, the aim was to avoid the helicopter having to be uncovered while evaluating the battlefield in search of enemies, being able to carry out this operation behind trees or protected behind undulations in the terrain.
The Hellfire missile would also be improved with the installation of a new seeker head that would give it total fire and forget capability. With this new seeker head, once the target was assigned by the gunner to the missile, it was launched and did not need the intervention of the helicopter to reach its target, since the missile was guided by its own radar. After the 1991 Gulf War it was decided to expand the improvements by adding new radios, new rotor blades, improved navigation systems and a Global Positioning System (GPS), but unfortunately, in 1992 the AH-64B Advanced Apache program was cancelled. Of course, later a new modernization program was started that would give rise to the AH-64D Longbow Apache.
In 1984, studies began to create a naval variant of the AH-64A to replace the AH-1 Sea Cobra of the Navy and Marines. A helicopter called Sea Apache or Gray Thunder (on the image) was proposed that could operate from frigate-type ships to carry out escort missions for carrier task groups armed with two Harpoon or Penguin anti-ship missiles and Sidewinder air-to-air missiles. Finally, two configurations of the Sea Apache were proposed, specific for the US Navy and the Marines, with different electronic equipment and weapons, but despite the interest shown, no specific naval variant has been developed. However, the British Army has used its Westland Apaches extensively from HMS Ocean during the 2011 military intervention in Libya.
The first production Apache left the factory on September 30, 1983, and from this date until 1997, the total number of AH-64As built reached 937 units, 821 of which were ordered by the US Army. During its development, the unit price of each AH-64A had been calculated at about 1.6 million dollars, but finally the price in 1987 was 7.5 million dollars. Subsequently, the price grew and reached 13 million per unit when the last ones came off the assembly line. Hughes Helicopter was acquired by McDonnell Douglas Aircraft in 1984 and renamed McDonnell Douglas Helicopter Company. Similarly, McDonnell Douglas was acquired by Boeing in 1997, but by this time AH-64A production had already ended.
The first AH-64A helicopters arrived at US Army units in February 1986, specifically at the 3rd Squadron of the 6th Cavalry Brigade (Air Combat) based at Fort Hood, Texas. This unit had the mission of evaluating the Apache in real operating conditions and establishing the bases of the course that all crew members had to take. The 3rd Squadron received Army Readiness Training and Evaluation Program (ARTEP) certification and was the first unit to be declared combat ready. The Apaches demonstrated their capabilities for the first time during the “Certain Strike’87” exercise in West Germany.
It is said that the AH-64A were so effective during the first exercises in Germany that the vehicles that acted as enemies were destroyed long before even having seen or detected the Apache helicopters. Furthermore, this effectiveness was usually demonstrated in conditions of poor visibility, fog and smoke, making it clear that the TADS and FLIR sensors had very high efficiency in the worst conditions.
The US Army also received several simulators for crew training called Apache Combat Mission Simulator (CMS). These simulators were built by the Link-Singer firm and were installed at Fort Rucker, Alabama. These simulators had 15 different programmed threat scenarios that reproduced combat missions. Pilot and gunner occupied different simulators adjusted to each one’s particular instrumentation, but which, logically, reacted jointly to the orders executed by them. These simulators could work in conjunction with simulators of other helicopters operated by the US Army to make the training more realistic. Furthermore, the cost savings were evident, since the operating cost of the Apache was about $1,820 per hour, while 1 hour of simulator cost only $625.
The first AH-64A were deployed in 1987 in Isselheim, West Germany, where in just 1 year about 200 Apaches belonging to the 6th Cavalry Brigade, 17th Cavalry Division and 2nd and 3rd Armored Divisions were deployed. Also in 1987 units of the US Army National Guard received the Apache into their ranks. It was hoped to replace the 1,031 AH-1 Cobras that were in service with the US Army at the time, but that figure was never reached. The first orders placed until 1987 covered a total of 675 Apaches, very far from the requested needs, but budget cuts are always the ones that end up settling the quantities.
The first combat deployment of the US Army’s Apaches occurred in December 1989 during Operation Just Cause to depose General Manuel Noriega, who was the Ruler of Panama, accused by the United States of bribery, extortion and drug trafficking among other crimes. In this operation, the AH-64A belonging to the 1st Aviation Battalion of the 82nd Airborne Division carried out various night attacks, demonstrating their lethality and firepower. However, it would not be until 1991 when the Apache was able to demonstrate everything it had been built for, during the 1991 Gulf War.
During the summer of 1990, the United States deployed a formidable fighting force at the head of an international coalition to confront the threat of an invasion of Saudi Arabia by Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. It is estimated that some 300 AH-64As were deployed during Operation Desert Shield, which would later culminate with the attack on Iraqi positions to liberate Kuwait within Operation Desert Storm. The Apache were among the first to intervene in the allied attack, when eight of them destroyed several radar positions and gave way to the bombers and attack aircraft on January 17, 1991, the start date of the campaign.
The AH-64A helicopters arrived to Saudi Arabia aboard C-5 Galaxy and C-141 Starlifter transport aircraft, which could carry 6 and 2 of them respectively. Once in combat, the Apache supported the USAF A-10 Thunderbolt II and the Marines’ AV-8B Harrier II in a multitude of close air support (CAS) missions. Some 275 AH-64As participated in the 100-hour ground war carried out from 24 to 28 February 1991, during which they destroyed almost 300 battle tanks, 200 armored vehicles, 325 soft skin vehicles, 125 guns/howitzers, 30 air defense systems, 10 mobile radars, 50 pillbox and bunkers and 10 aircrafts plus 10 helicopters on the ground. During these operations 7 Apache helicopters were damaged by enemy fire and one was shot down by a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG), although the crew survived.
Despite the spectacular performance of the Apache during the 1991 Gulf War, not all were triumphs and they were protagonists of two unfortunate friendly fire incidents in which several Allied soldiers died. Furthermore, this campaign made clear the serious logistical difficulties encountered in keeping the entire Apache fleet operational in Saudi Arabia, since the workload required by this aircraft was so enormous that the maintenance crews could not cope. In fact, all AH-64As that did not participate in the Gulf War had to be grounded to have enough spare parts for those deployed in Operation Desert Storm.
The next combat deployment for the AH-64A occurred in April 1999, when 24 of them, belonging to the 11th Attack Helicopter Regiment of the 12th Aviation Brigade, were deployed to the Rinas Mother Teresa Airport in Tirana, Albania within what It became known as “Task Force Hawk.” This time the Apache had to perform a totally different mission, they had to acquire the targets and relaying the information to USAF’s bomber units so that they could destroy Yugoslav formations stationed in Kosovo that supported units of the Serbian Police. Task Force Hawk was a support unit for NATO operations within Operation Allied Force and has been described as both a huge failure and a huge success, although for the AH-64A it was a clear failure.
The Apache made a direct flight from their base in Illesheim, Germany to Tirana and once settled in their base…..they did not carry out a single combat mission! Surprisingly, after an enormous deployment that cost the United States almost 500 million dollars, no unit of Task Force Hawk entered combat, however the Apaches deployed showed a worrying lack of training and various operational and equipment problems that reached the pages of the main newspapers in the United States. Additionally, to make matters worse, two AH-64As were lost when they crashed during training flights. According to some sources, the verification by American intelligence of an effective network of Yugoslav anti-aircraft defenses prevented the Apache from carrying out any combat missions in Kosovo.
In 1999 the US Army decided to transform the AH-64A into AH-64D, which was done progressively and ended in July 2012, the date on which variant A was considered decommissioned. Of course the AH-64A participated in the operations carried out in Afghanistan and Iraq between 2001 and 2021. In Afghanistan, 9 Apaches were lost between 2001 and 2013 due to accidents, (according to official sources), it is unknown if any were shot down by enemy fire. In Iraq, 9 AH-64As were lost, 3 in accidents and 6 due to enemy fire between 2003 and 2007. Since 2008 Boeing stopped providing support for the AH-64A, advising all users to modernize to the D variant to remain operational.
In June 1989, Israel was the first country that showed interest in the Apache and requested the sale of 16 of them through the Foreign Military Sales Program. This decision was made instead of carrying out a costly modernization of the AH-1 Tsefa (Viper), despite many critical voices within the Israeli Air Force (IAF). In 1990 it began receiving the first AH-64A Peten (Python), according to Israeli designation. The total number of AH-64As acquired by Israel amounted to 42, which were fully delivered in the late 1990s. In 2013, the existing AH-64A Peten received the modernization of various equipment. The modified aircraft are designated “AH-64Ai” and their capabilities are quite close to those of the AH-64D Apache Longbow, and 26 of them remain in service. Israeli AH-64A Apaches have been used extensively in carrying out precision strikes against leaders of the Palestinian Hamas movement and in the fight against the Lebanese Hezbollah paramilitary forces.
During the 1989 Le Bourget Airshow, McDonnell Douglas and the British firm Westland signed an agreement for the latter to manufacture this helicopter if it were chosen by the British Army as the next attack helicopter. It was estimated that between 125 and 150 aircraft would be acquired and that Westland would manufacture up to 40% of the airframe in the United Kingdom. Finally, in 1993, a competition was opened in which several companies participated with helicopters such as the Agusta A129 Mangusta, Eurocopter Tiger, Bell AH-1 Super Cobra, Boeing/Sikorsky RAH-66 Comanche and the Westland/McDonnell Douglas AH-64 Apache, which was the winner, although the selected variant was the AH-64D with several modifications and British equipment under designation Westland WAH-64 Apache Mk.1 or Apache AH Mk.1 (Apache AH1) (on the image).
The list of AH-64A users grew and the next was Saudi Arabia, which ordered 12 of them for its Land Forces at the end of the 1991 Gulf War. These Apaches were delivered shortly after and by the end of 2023 there were still 8 of them in service. These Apaches have participated in various combat missions against Houthi rebels in 2009 and during the Yemeni Civil War of 2015, in which some are believed to have been shot down.
The United Arab Emirates ordered 30 AH-64As that were delivered between 1992 and 1994 and were converted to the AH-64D Longbow variant in 2008. Egypt also acquired 36 AH-64As in 1995 that were later converted to the D variant, but without Longbow radar due to the refusal of the U.S. government. The last country to acquire AH-64A was Greece, which in 1995 ordered 20 units, of which at the end of 2023 19 of them remain in service, although of the modernized AH-64A+ variant (on the image).

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