October 28, 2010: Saudi Arabia is buying 70 U.S. AH-64 Apache Block III helicopter gunships, and upgrading its existing twelve AH-64s to the Block III standard. The Saudis are also buying additional engines, and 2,592 Hellfire missiles.The army will get 24 (it already has 12), the National Guard (the kings personal tribal army) 36, while the Royal Guard Brigade gets 12.
The newest version of the AH-64 is the Block III. This version had its first flight two years ago. The U.S. Army will be upgrading all of its 634 AH-64s to the new Block III standard, a process that won't be completed until 2020. The first Block IIIs will enter service next year.
Block III has a lot of improvements. One of the notable ones is a more powerful and fuel efficient engine, as well as much improved electronics. Block III will also have Internet like capabilities with other aircraft and ground troops. Block III will be able to control several UAVs, and launch missiles at targets spotted by its UAVs. The Block III radar will have longer range and onboard computers will be much more powerful. The electronics will be easier to upgrade and maintain. The combination of improved fire control and Internet capabilities is expected to greatly increase the capabilities of the AH-64.
The 7.5 ton AH-64D carries a pilot and a weapons officer, as well as up to 16 Hellfire missiles (plus the 30mm automatic cannon). Sorties average three hours. The AH-64 can operate at night and has a top speed of 260 kilometers an hour.