The Netherlands is again upgrading some of its 29 AH-64D Apache helicopter gunships so they can better handle ISTAR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition, and Reconnaissance) missions. This includes adding a high-resolution vidcam with zoom and the ability to transmit some of that video back to other aircraft or a ground station in real time. The crews of the ISTAR equipped AH-64Ds will be trained make the best use of this equipment. The Dutch believe the ISTAR capability will be particularly useful in peacekeeping and disaster relief operations where information about what exactly is happening in large swaths of territory is very important. ISTAR capable AH-64D helicopters can do this, and be able to defend themselves (or discourage attacks from people on the ground). This is the second major upgrade for Dutch AH-64Ds in the last five years.
Back in 2011 the Dutch AH64Ds were upgraded from the Block I to the Block II standard. These improvements included a digital cockpit and an Internet type communications capability with other troops on the ground or in the air with the same type gear. The Block II upgrades to radar and other electronics made the Dutch AH-64Ds similar to most U.S. Army ones, especially those operating in Afghanistan. Both the U.S. and Holland have had AH-64Ds in Afghanistan.
The AH-64D features the Longbow radar based fire control system. This enables the crew to spot armored vehicles, or stationary targets, in any weather, up to ten kilometers away, and destroy them with Hellfire missiles (max range, eight kilometers). Introduced in the late 1990s, this was a late Cold War development, the perfect weapon for destroying enemy tanks at long range.
The AH-64D got some use during the 2003 Iraq invasion, but since then, the Longbow radar has been more of a liability. The radar system has not been much use for firing Hellfires at targets in residential areas, where you usually want to get a visual, not radar, picture of the target. Moreover, the radar system weighs 227 kg (500 pounds, or about three percent of the weight of a fully loaded AH-64D). In Afghanistan, where the AH-64s fly at high altitudes, where the thin air means less lift, losing three percent of your weight is appreciated. In Iraq, the high heat, and abundant dust, makes the Longbow electronics more prone to breakdown. Thus many of the latest AH-64D upgrades include items that make operations in Afghanistan more effective.