Warplanes: South Korea Prepares For The Worst

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July 9, 2016: In mod-2016 South Korea received the first of 36 AH-64E helicopter gunships it ordered in 2013. All will arrive by early 2017. This is a year ahead of schedule because of the growing threat from North Korea. The South Korean AH-64Es are equipped with the new TADS/PNVS (“Arrowhead”) all-weather targeting systems. The Arrowhead systems cost $6.8 million per helicopter. Despite the expense South Korean Army aviators had seen Arrowhead in action on U.S. AH-64s stationed in South Korea and urged adoption of the system because they could see how effective it was.

In 2005 the U.S. Army began installing Arrowhead in its AH-64s, after two years of development. Arrowhead uses the latest night vision devices (light enhancement and thermal, or heat, based) and fire control electronics to enable AH-64 crews to operate more safely, and effectively, at lower altitudes and in any weather. This is particularly critical in urban areas, where South Korea expects a lot of combat to take place if the North Koreans manage to get across the border (DMZ).

Work on Arrowhead got a boost after the Iraq invasion in 2003, which was followed by a growing amount of urban fighting. This created the need for an AH-64 that could hover at 800 meters (2,500 feet) altitude (safe from most small arms fire) and use its high resolution sensors to see who was doing what for out to eight kilometers (five miles) away. Arrowhead could do that, and now most American AH-64s have Arrowhead and many transport helicopters as well (to make night flying safer).

In the 1990s, the army developed another advanced fire control system for their AH-64s called Longbow. But this system was designed for the original mission: flying at higher altitudes and looking for and destroying distant enemy armored vehicles. The Longbow allowed the AH-64 to go after armored vehicles at night and in bad weather. In the past, potential American enemies practiced moving their armor at night and bad weather, to avoid helicopters armed with long range missiles (like Hellfire or TOW). Longbow was doubly lethal because it was designed to avoid giving away its position when using its radar. AH-64s also had electronic countermeasures. Arrowhead, on the other hand, made night and bad weather deadly for enemy troops thinking they could sneak through urban areas unobserved. Longbow could not spot these guys, but Arrowhead could and did.

The latest version of the AH-64 is the AH-64E. This model was originally designated the AH-64D Block III. But the changes proved to be so extensive that the name was changed to AH-64E The E version had its first flight in 2008. The army is upgrading all of its 634 AH-64s to the new E standard, a process that won't be completed until 2020. The first AH-64E entered service in 2011. The E version has a lot of improvements. One of the notable ones is a more powerful and fuel efficient engine, as well as much improved electronics. This includes Internet like capabilities with other aircraft and ground troops. The E version is able to control several UAVs and launch missiles at targets spotted by its UAVs. The E version radar has longer range and onboard computers are much more powerful. The electronics are easier to upgrade and maintain. The combination of Longbow, Arrowhead, and Internet capabilities greatly increased the capabilities of the AH-64.

The 10 ton AH-64E carries a pilot and a weapons officer, as well as about a ton of weapons. The AH-64 can operate at night and has a top speed of 260 kilometers an hour. Many more of the existing 1,100 AH-64s (American and foreign) may be upgraded to the E standard as well. Sorties average 90 minutes but can be extended to three hours or more by replacing weapons with fuel tanks.

 


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