Warplanes: Dutch Apaches Get Improved

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March 22, 2011: The Netherlands is upgrading its 29 AH-64D Block I Apache helicopter gunships to the Block II standard. The improvements include 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 will make the Dutch AH-64Ds similar to most U.S. Army ones, especially those operating in Afghanistan. Both the U.S. and Holland have 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.

 


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