The AH-64 fleet consists of two aircraft models, the AH-64A and the newer Longbow Apache (LBA), AH-64D. AH-64A model full-scale production began in 1983 and over 800 aircraft have been delivered to the US Army and other NATO Allies since that time. The US Army planned to remanufacture its entire AH-64A Apache fleet to the AH-64D configuration between 1996 and 2010. The AH-64A fleet exceeded one million flight hours in 1997, and the median age of today's fleet is 9 years and 1,300 flight hours.
Armed with up to 16 laser-guided precision HELLFIRE missiles, 76 70mm rockets, or combination of both, and a 30mm automatic cannon with up to 1200 rounds of high explosive dual purpose ammunition, the AH-64A was developed for the US Army to help counter a numerical advantage in Warsaw Pact armored forces.
The Apache has been clearly one of the most dynamic and important programs in aviation and the Army, but has not been without limitations. Due to the possibility of surging the engines, pilots have been instructed not to fire rockets from in-board stations. According to established doctrine, they were to fire no more than pairs with two outboard launchers every three seconds, or fire with only one outboard launcher installed without restrictions (ripples permitted). These were the only conditions permitted. Other firing conditions would be required to be approved via a System Safety Risk Assessment (SSRA). This reality triggered the development of improved rocket motors with reduced firing emissions for safer operation.
The improvement of aircraft systems troubleshooting was a high priority issue for O&S Cost reduction. Because of funding cuts, the level of contractor support to the field had been reduced. This resulted in higher costs in no fault found removals, maintenance man hours, and aircraft down time. The Apache PM, US Army Aviation Logistics School, and Boeing were all undertaking several initiatives. Upgrading and improving the soldier's ability to quickly and accurately fault isolate the Apache weapons system was and continued to be an O&S priority until all issues were resolved.
Prime Vendor Support (PVS) for the entire fleet of AH-64s was a pilot program for the Army, and had the potential to become a pilot program for the entire Department of Defense. PVS would place virtually all of Apache's wholesale logistic responsibility under a single contract. The Apache flying hour program would provide up front funding for spares, repairables, contractor technical experts, and reliability improvements. Starting at the flight line there would be contractor expert technicians with advanced troubleshooting capability assigned to each Apache Battalion. At the highest level, PVS represents a single contractor focal point for spares and repairs. The intent was to break the current budget and requirements cycle that had Apache at 67% supply availability with several thousand lines at zero balance.
Modernization Through Spares (MTS) was a spares/component improvement strategy applied throughout the acquisition life cycle and was based on technology insertion to enhance systems and extend useful life while reducing costs. The MTS initiative sought to leverage current procurement funds and modernize individual system spares thereby incrementally improving these systems. MTS was accomplished via the "spares" acquisition process. MTS, a subset of acquisition reform, sought to improve an end item's spare components. The emphasis was on form, fit and function, allowing a supplier greater design and manufacturing flexibility to exploit technology used in the commercial marketplace.
Apache MTS focuses on the insertion of the latest technology into the design and manufacture of select spares. This was to be accomplished without government research and development (R&D) funds, but rather, uses industry investment. Industry, in turn, would recoup the investment through the sale of improved hardware via long term contracts.
Modernization efforts continued to improve the performance envelope of the AH-64A while reducing the cost of ownership. Major modernization efforts within the AH-64A fleet were funded and on schedule. GG Rotor modifications were finished in April 1998,, and future improvements such as a Second Generation FLIR, a High Frequency Non-Line of Sight NOE radio, and an internal fully crashworthy auxiliary fuel tank were all on the verge of becoming a reality for the Apache.
The Aviation Mission Planning System (AMPS) and the Data Transfer Cartridge (DTC) were tools for the Embedded Global Positioning Inertial Navigation Unit (EGI) equipped AH-64A aircraft that allowed aircrews to plan missions and download the information to a DTC installed in the Data Transfer Receptacle (DTR). This was intended to save the pilots a lot of "fat fingering" and eliminates the worry of everyone being on the same "sheet of music". Other features of the DTC include: saving way points and targets and troubleshooting. The EGI program is a Tri-service program with the Army, Air Force and Navy.
In 1997 a contract team from Sabreliner Corporation in St. Louis, Missouri changed gas-generator (GG) rotors on AH-64 Apache helicopters. The project, part of an Army-wide initiative, involved adding clips to each rotor blade on the engine turbine. Without this modification, the blades could begin to vibrate as the engines got older, creating the conditions for a potential engine failure and possibly endangering the flight crew. USAREUR was the first Army command to complete the changeover in its helicopters. The modifications solve what had been a safety concern with two of the Army's most important aircraft. For example, nine V Corps helicopters suffered GG rotor failures in FY96. While all nine landed without injury to personnel or damage to the aircraft, these incidents followed the crash of a V Corps Black Hawk helicopter near Cyprus on 15 August 1995. That accident cost the lives of four soldiers and was partly due to failure of a GG rotor blade, according to an Army safety investigation report. A second cause, the crew's reaction to the rotor-blade failure, was addressed through extensive pilot training to prepare crews to handle GG rotor failures or similar problems. The risk of further serious accidents made the GG rotor changeover program a command priority.
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