Warplanes: Apache Gets High


January23, 2007: The U.S. Armys AH-64 Apache helicopter gunship was designed to operate low, even taking cover behind trees, hills or buildings. But the fire control systems of the "Longbow" version of Apache enable the choppers to stay at 5,000 feet, and still get a close look at what's down there, day or night. At that altitude, the AH-64 is safe from most ground fire, and there's a lot of that in Iraq and Afghanistan. While the Apache was built to take a lot of damage, hit it enough and it comes down, or has to limp home for repairs.

About a quarter of the armys 24 AH-64 battalion (18 Apaches each) are in Iraq or Afghanistan at any given time. The biggest problem has been maintenance. The electronics in the Longbow system are particularly time consuming to keep going. So by adopting the high altitude tactic, there is less battle damage, and less stress from the violent maneuvering encountered when flying close to the ground. The Apaches still go low, but only when the occasion demands it it. Otherwise, they are more useful up high, using their sensors, which, with the magnification on, can show them individuals carrying weapons down there. The Apache also has a new red-dot laser indicator for their 30mm cannon. This reduces friendly fire incidents. When in doubt, the AH-64 can flip on the red-dot and ask the guys down below if the right target is about to be hit. The red-dot also has an intimidating effect on the enemy, if you are trying to induce them to surrender.

In the next few years, all Apaches will be equipped with communications gear that will allow the real-time exchange of video, and other sensor data. Not just with other Apaches, but with air force warplanes and ground troops.


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