Two "major delays" in the deliveries of Boeing AH-64E re-manufactured helicopters to soldiers and other parts problems with Army helicopters, such as the Sikorsky UH-60 and the Boeing CH-47 Chinook, have undercut readiness, according to Lt. Gen. Laura Richardson, the deputy commanding general of U.S. Forces Command.
"Delays in fielding directly impact readiness," she told the Army Aviation Association of America's annual conference here on Apr. 15. "Too much is being done on the backs of our soldiers, and that needs to stop."
Last year, the Army found corrosion-damaged main rotorhead bolts on the Apaches. It took seven months for the design of a fail-safe collar and strap pack solution to emerge to address the issue, said Brig. Gen. Thomas Todd, the program executive officer for aviation. In addition, the Army had to put 70 Apaches in storage earlier this year to receive the fail safe collars, but that number is down to 25, he said.
Boeing has said the fail-safe collars are designed to prevent helicopter blades from detaching from the main rotor in the event of a problem so that the helicopter can safely land. The collar fits over legacy nuts and is meant to be a temporary solution while the helicopters await retrofit of the strap pack.
"Our highest priority is the safety of the warfighter and reliability of our products," Boeing said April 15 in a statement on the AH-64E re-manufacturing program. "We’re continuing to partner with the U.S. Army to address issues, deploying Boeing experts to assist the Army in the field with the inspections, and continue deliveries as scheduled."
The Army's fiscal 2020 budget request does not include new build AH-64Es, but instead 48 helicopters under the multi-year remanufacturing program.
The AH-64E is also undergoing a version six (V6) update, which includes a number of upgrades, including fire control radar and data-link improvements and an upgraded AN/APR-48B Modernized Radar Frequency Interferometer.
Last year, the fiscal 2018 annual report by the Pentagon Director of Operational Test and Evaluation noted some issues with the V6 update.
"Developmental testing of Version 6 AH-64E software and major subsystems in 2018 revealed multiple performance deficiencies," according to the DOT&E report. "One or more deficiencies affected the multi-core mission processor, modernized radar interferometer, the fire control radar, the target acquisition designation sight, and manned-unmanned teaming. The program office has since identified fixes for most of the problems. Regression testing on Apache subsystems has begun and early indications are that some of the problems have been resolved."
Boeing has said that the final outbrief on V6 is planned for June 2019 and that production is to begin in mid-2020.
"The Apache Program Office should verify in regression testing of version 6 AH-64E subsystems that Boeing has corrected the previous deficiencies," DOT&E said. "Following verification of fixes, the Army should conduct FOT&E [follow-on operational test and evaluation] II to demonstrate version 6 Apache capabilities."
Boeing said it is positioning the Apache to take on near-peer threats, such as Russia and China, in line with the National Defense Strategy.
While the Army plans to have the AH-64 Apache in its formations until 2050 or 2060, Boeing officials believe that the Army will require a follow-on to the AH-64E to bridge the gap with the service's Future Vertical Lift program.
It is so far unclear whether the Army will solely rely on depot maintenance, overhauls and repairs to sustain the AH-64 until 2050 or 2060 or whether the service will opt for an AH-64E follow-on – or a mix of both strategies.
The Army operates 514 D-model and 235 E-model Apaches, while there are more than 120 E models in other countries.