A year after the U.S. Army began receiving the first of 51 "low rate initial production" Block III models of the AH-64D Apache helicopter gunship they have decided to rename the new model the AH-64E. This is the latest version of the AH-64 which had its first flight four years ago. It was decided that the Block III improvements were so numerous and dramatic that it made more sense to go to a simpler and more descriptive AH-64E designation.
The AH-64A was the initial model, entering service in 1986. The last AH-64A was taken out of service earlier this year 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. 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 five years later. By 2006, over 500 American AH-64As had been upgraded to AH-64Ds.
By the end of the decade 634 army AH-64s will be upgraded to the new AH-64E standard. The first AH-64Es are entering service now and will be heavily used to reveal any design or manufacturing flaws. These will be fixed before mass production and conversion begins.
AH-64Es have more powerful and fuel efficient engines, as well as much improved electronics. AH-64Es will also have Internet like capabilities enabling these gunships to quickly exchange images, video, and so on with other aircraft and ground troops. AH-64Es will be able to control several UAVs and launch missiles at targets spotted by these UAVs. The AH-64E 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 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) is buying 60. Neighboring Saudi Arabia recently 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.