Britain is upgrading fifty of its 66 AH-64D helicopter gunships to the latest E standard. The other 16 AH-64s are being taken out of service and, in effect, put in storage. Work on the upgrade will begin in early 2016. A similar program is underway in the United States. The AH-64E made its first flight in 2008 and the U.S. Army received its first ones in 2011. The AH-64E showed up in Afghanistan during early 2014. There the 24 AH-64Es with an aviation battalion performed as expected.
The E model benefits from three decades of operational experience. The AH-64 entered service in 1986 and the last of these AH-64As was taken out of service in 2012 for upgrade to the AH-64D standard. The AH-64B was an upgrade proposed for the early 1990s, but was cancelled, as was a similar “C” model upgrade, because of Cold War budget cuts. Some of these cancelled improvements were in great demand. Thus the “B” and “C” model upgrades were incorporated in the AH-64D Block I (1997). The AH-64D Longbow (because of the radar mast, making it possible to see ground targets and flying obstacles in all weather) models began appearing in 2002. By the end of the decade 634 army AH-64Ds will be upgraded to the new AH-64E standard.
AH-64Es have more powerful and fuel efficient engines, as well as much improved electronics. AH-64Es also have Internet- like capabilities enabling these gunships to quickly exchange images, video, and so on with other aircraft and ground troops. Each AH-64E can also control several UAVs and launch missiles at targets spotted by these UAVs. The AH-64E radar has longer range and onboard computers are much more powerful than earlier ones. The electronics are easier to upgrade and maintain. The combination of improved fire control and Internet capabilities greatly increases the combat effectiveness of the AH-64.
The 10 ton AH-64E 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.
In addition to the U.S. Army, the AH-64E the UAE (United Arab Emirates) bought 60. Neighboring Saudi Arabia ordered 70, as well as upgrades for its existing twelve AH-64s to the “E” standard. Many more of the existing 1,100 AH-64s (American and foreign) may be upgraded as well.