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The U.S. Army has awarded Boeing (BA) a contract to upgrade existing AH-64A Apache attack helicopter to the AH-64D Longbow standard. The total value of the contract is almost $200 million and will pay to modify 72 aircraft.
The AH-64D is the currently the most modern attack helicopter in use by the United States and some of its Allies. It has seen heavy use in Iraq and Afghanistan providing fire support for Soldiers and Marines on the ground. Its payload of 30 mm cannon and Hellfire missiles are well suited for the engagement of enemy troops in fixed or fortified positions.
Boeing produced almost a 1,000 AH-64A for the U.S. and foreign users before 2000. The AH-64D Longbow adds a fire control radar mounted above the rotor blades. The AH-64D also has various other modifications and improvements from the A model including increased digitization.
The Army and Boeing have continued to develop the Apache and the latest version, the Longbow Block III, was just approved for entry into Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP) by the Department of Defense in October. The Block III continues sustained improvements and adds the capability for the Apache to communicate and control Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) directly. Boeing received a contract worth almost $250 million to support this next step in the acquisition process.
Modern weapons tend to have very long lives. Now not just ships but aircraft and armored vehicles served for decades. These systems like the AH-64A offer many years of useful life due to careful maintenance and modification and upgrades. The U.S. and other armed forces sometimes find it easier to pay for wholesale upgrades of models rather then buying new ones. The contract given to Boeing to convert A to D models is an example of this. By investing this money they are able to not only extend the life of the system but improve its capabilities overall and allow it to make a more significant contribution on the battlefield.
These contracts also provide a buffer for times when there are no new equipment production contracts. Although right now Boeing is making new AH-64D as well as upgrading A to D configuration.
Photo from Demon Brigade flickr photostream.