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Wed, Mar 12, 2008

Report: US Army Wants More Apache Longbows

ARH Delays Present Opportunity

Ongoing delays with helicopters meant to replace older Kiowa Warriors in the US Army fleet have spurred officials with the service, and Boeing, to ask Congress for more money to buy modernized Apache Longbow helicopters.

According to TheHill.com, the Army National Guard operates four AH-64A battalions, comprised of 92 helicopters. Army procurement officials have held off modernizing those aircraft, to free up money to purchase new Bell Armed Reconnaissance Helicopters (ARHs).

The ARH is not meant to replace the Apache, which is primarily a ground-attack aircraft. But the ripple effect from the ARH delay filters down throughout the Army helicopter fleet... and the delay may present an opportunity for Army officials to upgrade more of the battle-proven Apaches.

As ANN reported, the Army said in December it now wants only 250 ARHs, based on Bell's commercial Model 407 (shown at center). The original plan called for 348 ARHs to be purchased at about $10.3 million apiece; current pricetags run closer to $12.3 million.

Combined with what Army officials expect will be another two-year delay in receiving those ARHs, officials say Army National Guard units in Texas, Pennsylvania, Missouri, and Idaho may be flying their original AH-64As for at least another nine years. That might not be so bad stateside... but those units are expected to deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan in the future.

"I can't send them with that [aircraft]," Brigadier General Stephen Mundt told The Hill.

Under an Army contract, Boeing has converted most AH-64As into far more capable D-model Apaches, known as Longbows. The AH-64Ds can shoot farther, and fly faster and over greater distances than older models. Longbows also have upgraded avionics, and more protection for their two-man crews.

Faced with the choice of whether to freshen up leftover A-models at about $8 million apiece, or convert them into D-model Longbows for $11 million, Mundt is clear about which option he prefers. "There is a huge [difference] in capability between those two," he said, echoing the sentiments of most Army and National Guard officials.

Boeing would like to modernize the helicopters, too. The American defense contractor has started lobbying lawmakers, seeking about $350 million in additional funding to the FY2009 defense budget to equip one battalion with upgraded Longbows. The company hopes more work for its Longbow line would stave off a downturn in its employment ranks, and would give Boeing additional time to develop another Apache upgrade program.

Adding clout to that lobbying effort are the potential benefits to another contractor, Lockheed Martin, which builds night-vision and targeting systems for Longbows.

FMI: www.army.mil, www.boeing.com/ids

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