From Aviation Week:
Britain Gearing Up For Remanufactured Apache Fleet
In April, two of Britain’s Apache helicopters were transported to the U.S. to begin an upgrade program that will align the fleet more closely with those operated by the U.S. Army and other allies.
Britain plans to upgrade 50 of the 65 Apaches that remain in the Army Air Corps’ inventory to the AH-64E standard under the UK’s Apache Capability Sustainment Program, becoming the first foreign Apache customer to carry out the remanufacturing process on its fleet. The first British AH-64E is due to emerge in mid-2020.
Boeing has already churned out more than 300 AH-64Es from its plant in Mesa. These have been remanufactured aircraft for the U.S. Army or new-build models for customers in the Middle East and Asia-Pacific region.
As much as 60% of UK’s WAH-64s will be re-used in the remanufacturing process
UK plans to arm its Apaches with the MBDA Brimstone air-to-surface missile
But Britain’s aircraft are also rather different to begin with. When the UK first signed up to purchase its Apaches—designated WAH-64D Mk. 1—in 1996, not only did it want them assembled in the UK, but it also wanted to equip them with a different engine, the then-Rolls-Royce/Turbomeca (now Safran RTM322) to improve commonality with other aircraft in the British inventory, such as the Leonardo EH-101 Merlin.
While the use of the engine gave the Apache a notable enhancement in performance compared to the GE-powered AH-64D, particularly in Afghanistan, the additional cost of assembly in the UK and the numerous UK-only modifications made the aircraft prohibitively expensive to purchase. Critics described the aircraft as “gold-plated” and, according to some reports, they were almost twice the price of the U.S. Army’s standard AH-64Ds.
When it came to replacing these aircraft, Britain—controversially at the time—decided to go the Foreign Military Sales route, aligning the aircraft with the U.S. Army and replacing the RTM322 engine with the General Electric T700-GE-701D turboshaft, a powerplant is not used in any other British military helicopter.
However, British Army commanders see significant benefits from being able to access a larger spares resource, as well as from the data collected from the larger fleet to improve maintenance scheduling. The UK is considering taking a similar approach to future purchases of the CH-47 Chinook, including the MH-47G model, aligning more closely with the U.S. Army-model aircraft.
Britain has dispatched its first WAH-64 Apaches to the U.S. for remanufacturing; the first UK AH-64E should be redelivered in mid-2020.
“Taking key kit off the aircraft, refurbishing it and re-using it . . . putting on a new fuselage and wiring harnesses comes at the fraction of the price of a new aircraft,” says David Koopersmith, vice president and general manager of Boeing’s Vertical Lift division.
“It provides tremendous value, and drives life-cycle costs down. . . . I believe all our current Alpha and Delta-model customers will come back and remanufacture their aircraft to Echo models.”
So far, the UK has signed contracts for 38 of the 50 aircraft, and it had been expected that contracts for the remaining 12 would follow at the end of 2017, but this has not yet happened.
According to the UK Defense Ministry, the U.S. government asked the UK to split the order into two parts to better fit with their production plans. The first of Britain’s Apaches to undergo the upgrade are aircraft that were in storage at the Apache main operating base at Wattisham, England. These were stored when the size of the operational Apache force was reduced after the aircraft’s involvement in Afghanistan.
The Apaches are airlifted to Huntsville, Alabama, and delivered to Science and Engineering Services, a Boeing contractor that will disassemble the aircraft and identify components that can be reused in the AH-64E assembly process. If necessary, those that can be retained will be refurbished and then sent along to Mesa to be made ready for the production line.
In standard AH-64D to E conversions, the engine nacelles would be retained. But because the British aircraft used different engines, the nacelles feature several differences making them incompatible with the GE engine, so new-build nacelles will be used. The British aircraft will also be among the first non-U.S. Army aircraft to use fuselages built by India’s Tata Advanced Systems.
So far, all AH-64E fuselages have been produced by Korea Aerospace Industries. Overall, around 700-800 parts will be refurbished and re-used, including the various onboard sensors and the composite horizontal stabilizer. In total, around 60% of the components from the UK’s WAH-64 will be re-used.
Even aircraft that are being re-manufactured are assembled on the same production line as new-build Apaches. So called Shadow kits are assembled combining the reused and new-build parts to be used in assembly, for the people on the production line, so producing the British Apaches will be no different than building a brand-new machine for the U.S. Army.
As well as building the aircraft, Boeing’s UK business will also support the aircraft and provide crew training, although initial training for the first cadre of UK AH-64E pilots will take place with the U.S. Army at Fort Rucker, Alabama. Few details have emerged about the facilities that will eventually support the Apache fleet, but Boeing is hoping to establish a new facility at Boscombe Down in Wiltshire, England, where it has been working on the retrofit of a digital flight-control system on the Chinook.
The new British Apaches will also feature some UK-specific equipment. The success of the Selex (now Leonardo)-developed Helicopter Integrated Defensive Aids Suite (HIDAS) has prompted the British Army to retain the system for the AH-64E, albeit with a new Leonardo-developed radar- warning receiver.
As with the aircraft, the elements of HIDAS are being taken from stored aircraft first.
Using the HIDAS allows the UK to keep the system up to date using its own collected electronic warfare data rather than having to consult a third party. Britain has also quietly requested the Manned-Unmanned Teaming-Extended system, enabling the potential control of British Army UAVs such as the Thales Watchkeeper or other future platforms.
All of the UK aircraft will be equipped with the Longbow fire-control radar as standard, unlike in the U.S. Army, where a small number of aircraft per battalion are fitted with it.
The UK is also exploring the integration of the MBDA Brimstone air-to-ground missile, following successful trials of the weapon from the helicopter in the summer of 2016. The Brimstone would supplement the Hellfire as the primary weapon on the UK fleet and be fired from the M299 launcher used to fire the Hellfire.
The British Army will also continue to use the CRV7 unguided rocket launcher; but there are still no plans for a laser-guided rocket system.
MBDA revealed in March that it was developing a standard version of the weapon that would enable it to be carried on fast jets, helicopters or unmanned aircraft systems, as the UK also wants to be able to launch the weapon from its Eurofighter Typhoons and Protector drones.
Main gate approval for the Brimstone integration—part of the UK procurement process that comes prior to a contract signing—is expected in the third quarter of 2019.