Fifty Apache AH-64E Version 6 aircraft have been purchased from the United States to provide a state-of-the-art attack aviation capability that will be a key element of how the Army fights in the coming decades, as set out in the Future Soldier program. The British Army 3 Regiment Army Air Corps, part of the 1st Aviation Brigade Combat Team will be the first unit to field the AH-64E, with engineers and aircrew going on training courses in the USA to prepare themselves to operate the helicopter. The unit’s hangars at Wattisham Flying Station are busy with Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers soldiers conducting engineering checks on aircraft delivered from the USA, with flight testing now getting underway. The AH-64E replaces the Apache Mk.1, which entered service in 2001 and proved itself as a battle-winning asset on Afghanistan and Libya. The Boeing-built AH-64E features new drivetrain and rotor blades to boost flying performance; improved sights and sensors; communications systems to share data with other helicopters, uncrewed aircraft systems, and ground forces; and embedded maintenance diagnostic systems to increase aircraft availability.
3 Regt AAC’s Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel Simon Wilsey said: “The AH-64E Apache is a 21st Century attack helicopter that is more lethal, agile, survivable and integrated and will enhance the way the Army fights. It is a central part of Future Soldier and the British Army’s warfighting capability. What is key to the AH-64E’s improved capabilities is its ability to integrate with other ground and air assets, allowing us to share information so that we can find and strike the enemy before our forces are targeted themselves.”
Warrant Officer Class 2 ‘O’, an experienced pilot who is his squadron’s flying instructor, said: “I’m very excited about flying the AH-64E. It is more agile, faster, more powerful and it is going to allow us to support ground forces and other air assets much better. The interoperability of this Apache is vastly improved. We have better communications systems, better sensors, the fire control radar has been enhanced, we’ve got lots more radios and Link 16, which allows us to share data quicker and with higher fidelity to ground forces, manned or unmanned aircraft.”
More than a dozen new AH-64E Apaches – one of the most advanced attack helicopters anywhere in the world – are undergoing test flights with the British Army. Wattisham Flying Station took delivery of 14 of the new aircraft in recent months, with 36 more due to arrive by summer 2024. Test flights by the British Army are underway, with a boost to aerial capability anticipated early next year when the helicopters are expected to enter operational capability. The helicopters have improved sensors and lethality, upgraded weapons systems, and heightened communications compared to its predecessor, the MK1. Comparable to high-end supercars, the new Apaches also boast a top speed of 300km (186 mph). They can detect 256 potential targets at once, prioritizing the most urgent threats within seconds, up to a range of 16km (10 miles) away – a distance 57 times the length of HMS Queen Elizabeth or over twice the length of the Grand National course. A 20-year agreement has been signed with Boeing Defence UK to maintain and support the new fleet.
With £287 million confirmed for the first period of the contract, in place until July 2025, the agreement will create more than 200 jobs in the UK, including 165 for the Army Aviation Centre at Middle Wallop in Hampshire and 45 at Wattisham Flying Station in Suffolk. The British Army has been using the world-leading Apache capability since 2005, with the attack helicopters used in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya. The Long-Term Training and Support Service (LTTSS) by Boeing will progressively take over from the initial support and conversion training provided by the US Government under Foreign Military Sale interim arrangements. The new Boeing contract will cover aircraft design organization services, maintenance, logistics support, plus pilot, maintainer, and ground crew training. Boeing already has more than 40 employees working alongside the Army Air Corps providing training for the Mk1 Apache at the Attack Helicopter Training School at Middle Wallop. The replacement of the MK1 with the AH-64E – built by Boeing and already in service with the US Army – was announced in 2016 as part of a $2.3 billion deal.