NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The U.S. Army has decided to delay its capstone full operational test and evaluation for the newest variant of the Apache attack helicopter by a year, the service’s program manager for aircraft told an audience April 26 at the Army Aviation Association of America’s annual summit.

A year ago, “we were talking about the [full operational test and evaluation] FOT&E occurring about right now,” Col. Tal Sheppard said. “It is not happening right now. We have delayed FOT&E for a year into the spring of 2019.”

The Army first fielded the AH-64 Echo model to units in 2013 and is now fielding the eighth unit equipped at Fort Riley, Kansas.

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The reason the service decided to delay the operational test is because “we weren’t ready yet,” Sheppard said. “A year is going to get us ready, it’s going to help us mature technology.”

Additionally, the Army will now be able to run both the Echo model operational test simultaneously with the operational test of the Hellfire missile’s replacement — the Joint Air-to-Ground Missile. JAGM is headed toward a production decision next month.

And the benefit of that is “we will minimize touches to [Forces Command] units for an operational test, and we save on some resources as well,” Sheppard said.

When asked if the delay had anything to do with the recently surfaced issue related to the Army not accepting Apaches from Boeing due to an issue with the current strap pack nut, Sheppard said the decision to delay was not connected.

Defense News first broke the news that the Army had stopped taking deliveries of AH-64Es from Boeing due to a lack of confidence in the durability of the strap pack nut, particularly its performance in severe, coastal environments where the service saw corrosion due to climate and stress.

Boeing is expected to have a redesigned nut ready to replace the old nut by the summer, and the Army will quickly work to replace the nut in all E models and D models that are fielded with the Army, the National Guard and international customers.

“I will say it was more high risk than it needed to be to have a successful [operational test],” Sheppard said.

That was mostly due to discovering in pretest events last fall that software related to the multi-core processor needed further refinement, he told Defense News at the AAAA summit, adding it is the first time the Army has installed such a processor on rotary-wing aircraft in the fleet.

“We’ve gone back to work with Boeing to ensure success this time around,” Sheppard said.

Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College.

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