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British Army wants AH-64E Apache before end of decade

The British Army Air Corps (AAC) expects to replace its current AgustaWestland-Boeing WAH-64D Apache Longbow AH.1 attack helicopter fleet with the latest-variant AH-64E (formerly AH-64D Block III) "by the end of the decade", a senior service official disclosed on 23 January.

Speaking at the IQPC International Military Helicopter conference in London, the deputy commander of the tri-service Joint Helicopter Command (JHC), Brigadier Neil Sexton, said that, with the AAC's Apache AH.1 helicopters (Block I standard) suffering from obsolescence issues, the army "rather hopes" that the Boeing AH-64E Apache Guardian will be chosen as its successor, for fielding before 2020.

"The army is absolutely sold on [the Apache's] performance in Afghanistan," Brig Sexton said, adding: "[The Apache AH.1] has an extremely high profile with the public, mainly down to Captain Wales [Prince Harry] in Afghanistan."

As well the proven performance of the AH.1-variant Apache now in service, Brig Sexton noted that the enhanced capabilities of the AH-64E are proving to be highly alluring to the United Kingdom, especially with regard to manned-unmanned teaming. "We are watching very closely what the US is doing with this," he said, adding: "There is a lot of future potential for this with [the British Army's] Watchkeeper unmanned aerial vehicle."

In terms of numbers, Brig Sexton said that he does not expect any AH-64Es to be procured as one-for-one replacements for the Apaches currently in service (67 were purchased, with one lost on operations in Afghanistan), adding "but we don't need that". 

The most likely scenario will see the most costly systems on the current AH.1 aircraft - the M-TADS (targeting system), the fire control system, and the engines - being refitted into newly built airframes, with the equipment left over providing a ready-made pool of spares.

According to the brigadier, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) expects the acquisition process for the AH-64E to be decided "in the next couple of years", with a contract being signed shortly after. He could not say though whether this process would begin before the next UK general election in 2015. 

While Brig Sexton said that any procurement decision must be made with the US Army production run in mind, Boeing officials previously told IHS Jane's that programme delays incurred by sequestration were having the unintended consequence of buying the United Kingdom time in making its decision.

"With the US Army staring down the tunnel of sequestration, the new-build of 56 [AH-64E] helicopters has been delayed [634 AH-64Ds will also be remanufactured to AH-64E standard, of which 43 have been done to date]," said David Koopersmith, Vice President Attack Helicopter Programme for Boeing. "The [US Army] production line will not now start until about 2019/2020 and will run through until at least 2026, giving the UK the luxury of some flexibility," Koopersmith said at the Seoul International Aerospace and Defence Exhibition (ADEX) in October 2013.

The MoD is currently undertaking a capability sustainment programme (CSP) to sustain the UK's attack helicopter capability out to 2040 and beyond, but has declined to say when it will report the findings of this study. The AH-64E is understood to be one of a number of options being considered, with others being the procurement of a new helicopter type altogether or even the scrapping of the capability

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