The Army will no longer buy future versions of the Apache helicopter, according to FlightGlobal. Instead, it will pour funding into developing the armed version of the Future Vertical Lift (FVL) program, the mission to make a new helo that will fly in 2030.
The AH-64 Apache entered service in 1984 as the first purpose-built attack helicopter for the U.S. Army. The Apache pioneered advanced technologies including the TADS target acquisition system, thermal imaging night vision, helmet-steerable 30-millimeter chain gun, and the Hellfire laser-guided missile.
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The Apache was designed as a tank-killer for the battlefields of Western Europe, capable of carrying up to sixteen Hellfire missiles. Just two Apaches could smash a battalion of 30 Soviet tanks, which would go a long way toward addressing NATO's numerical inferiority.
In reality, its mission would prove to be elsewhere. The helicopter saw combat in the 1989 invasion of Panama and the 1991 Persian Gulf War. It fought with U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, with Israeli forces in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, and with British forces in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya. Saudi Apaches are currently using the AH-64 to battle Houthi rebels in Yemen. The Apache is in service with 12 countries and on order with three more.
The latest version of the Apache, the -E Model Guardian, features an uprated engine, tactical datalinks for sharing information with other friendly forces, an improved transmission, and the ability to control unmanned aerial vehicles from the cockpit. The Army is buying a handful of AH-64Es, but the majority of the helicopters will be older Apaches upgraded to the Guardian standard.
Still in service more than 30 years after introduction, the Apache has been flying a lot longer than anyone anticipated. The Army is finally bent on replacing it with the FVL program. The middleweight aircraft will replace both the UH-60 Blackhawk and the AH-64 Apache. At some point the Army has to redirect the funding hose away from existing programs and into newer ones, and that point is now. The Army may buy more -E models in the near future, but that would be to replace existing helicopters lost in crashes or combat operations.
Meanwhile, Apache maker Boeing is pressing ahead with plans for an -F model, with or without the Army. Many of the Apache's overseas sales didn't occur for a decade or more after the helicopter entered U.S. service. If the same happens with the armed FVL aircraft, it might not attract foreign buyers until 2040 or later. Meanwhile, an -F model Apache could act as bridge—a very lucrative bridge indeed as the Apache continues to gain fame as a proven combat platform.