The Boeing AH-64 Apache Helicopter was originally designed by Hughes in the 1970s to meet an Army requirement for an advanced attack helicopter. Production was not authorized until 1982. The first Apache helicopter deployed in 1986 and the AH-64 became the Army’s primary attack helicopter. A total of 824 helicopters were put into Army service.
The Apache helicopter can react quickly to engage in close combat to destroy, disrupt or hold up enemy forces. The primary weapon on the helicopter is the AGM-114A Hellfire anti-armor laser-guided missile of which 16 can be carried. The Apache can also carry unguided 2.75 inch rockets for use against softer targets and is equipped with a 30mm M230 Chain Gun for self-protection. Some versions can launch air-to-air missiles. The helicopter can be transported in the C-5, C-141, and C-17 airplanes allowing it to be deployed anywhere in the world.
The Apache Helicopter was deployed in substantial numbers during Operation Desert Storm in 1991. Critics claimed that the performance of the helicopter would be unacceptably low were proven wrong. Instead, it achieved a readiness rate of about 90 percent. Such was the effectiveness of the Apache that, as soon as the Iraqis realized that they were being targeted, most of them hurriedly exited their tanks and armored personnel carriers and surrendered. The Iraqis named the Apaches the “Black Death.”
By the end of war, the AH-64 Apache had been credited with the destruction of over 500 tanks plus hundreds of other vehicles. A substantial force of Apaches remained in the Middle East to maintain a protection force for Operation Northern and Southern Watch.
The AH-64 Apache has also been involved in numerous other operations, including the NATO efforts to find peace in the former Republic of Yugoslavia and Bosnia, and during the second Gulf War of 2003.
A program to significantly improve the capability of the helicopter has led to the AH-64D Longbow Apache Helicopter. The new model features a large and distinctive radar housing mounted above the main rotor disk. This houses a millimeter-wave fire control radar (FCR) which is part of the target acquisition system. The Longbow Apache can detect, classify and prioritize over 128 targets and transmit data to any other aircraft to coordinate a precision attack – all in just 30 seconds. In addition, the helicopter is fitted with more powerful engines, more advanced sensors including Pilot Night Vision Sensor (PNVS) and an integrated Helmet and Display Sighting System (HADDS) worn by the Pilot and co-pilot/gunner, and a fully integrated cockpit with improved communications and navigation. A further benefit of the upgrade is increased crashworthiness.
Following the modification of six prototypes from AH-64As, the first AH-64D Longbow Apache was delivered in October 1998 and a program is underway to modify all surviving examples. During some of the trials the AH-64A and AH-64D were given similar tasks. It was concluded that the AH-64D Apache Longbow helicopter had 400 percent more lethality and was 720 percent more survivable.