An AH-64 Apache prepares for takeoff March 28 during an exercise. (Spc. Glenn M. Anderson / US Army)
MESA, ARIZ. — The US Army will soon test a new network capability that could prove to be a “game changer” for the service’s fleet of AH-64 Apache rotorcraft.
The Link 16 data network will be tested on the newer AH-64E models in August. If successful, it will give the Army Link 16 capability for a platform still widely used in Afghanistan.
“That will be a game changer,” Col. John Lynch, TRADOC Capability Manager for Reconnaissance and Attack, told reporters Wednesday. “We talk about the Apache as the joint integrating platform in Army aviation, and if you want to be joint with the other services — all the other services communicate situational awareness data using Link 16 — so that’s the Army’s first venture into the Link 16 world.”
Lynch’s comments were made at a Boeing facility in Mesa, Arizona, part of a media tour arranged by the company. Boeing paid for accommodations and travel for reporters from Defense News and other publications.
The Link 16 network allows easy transfer of tactical information, something increasingly important in a world where information is coming from multiple assets at once. It is also key to successful interoperability, as a number of international partners and other US services use Link 16 to share data in a battle space.
“All the feedback we’re getting is it works great,” Lynch said, who noted that being hooked into Link 16 makes the AH-64E “clearly much more efficient at locating and prosecuting targets” than older systems.
In addition to the Link 16 capability, Lynch praised the upgrades to the AH-64 between the Delta and Echo editions. Since arriving in Afghanistan in March, the Echos have flown 1,700 hours at what Lynch called a higher tempo than the Deltas could handle.
“The Echo model is more fuel efficient, it’s more powerful, and it’s just as deadly as a Delta model aircraft but its more lethal because of the situational awareness we can give to the pilot,” agreed Col. Jeffrey Hager, the project manager for Apache Attack Helicopter PMO.
Boeing has delivered 117 Echo models, 48 of which have gone to international customers, said Mike Burke, the company’s director of attack helicopter business development. It is currently talking to India, Indonesia and Qatar about potential sales there as well.
The Echo may be the newest edition, but Burke acknowledged that an AH-64F may be necessary in the future given the timetable for the Army to move towards its future vertical lift program.
“In addition to working on the E model Apache, we’re working for technology for a future aircraft,” Burke said. “The army hasn’t said there will be an F model or anything like that,” but Boeing is looking at what technologies might be applicable in the future.