HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — The AH-64 Apache helicopter's day-and-night vision target-acquisition sensor is getting a more reliable turret next year, which is expected to save the Army an estimated $500 million in operations and sustainment life-cycle costs, according to a Lockheed Martin executive.

Lockheed Martin began developing the High Reliability Turret for the Modernized Target Acquisition Designation Sight/Pilot Night Vision Sensor (M-TADS/PNVS) through a contract with the Army awarded in 2014. The company expects to receive an engineering change proposal approval around the fourth quarter of 2017 that will allow it to start low-rate procurement, David Belvin, Lockheed's Apache programs director, told Defense News at the Association of the US Army's Global Force Symposium on Tuesday.

One of the key things war fighters asked for in a new turret, Belvin said, was increased slew rates. However, the need to design out obsolescence of the original 1980s turret and improve maintainability drove the development of the new one, Belvin said. The increased slew rate is an added bonus.

Lockheed believes the modernized design addresses 80 percent of the legacy failure modes and results in a 40 percent increase in turret reliability, according to Belvin.

The new turret also has smaller, more affordable line-replaceable modules, he added. With the old turrets, maintainers would have to pull everything off of the system and it took a special aircraft to bring it out of theater. Legacy subcomponent failure required the entire line replaceable unit (LRU) of the turret to be replaced.

The new design allows for "two-level maintenance," Belvin said. Four-line replaceable modules can be removed or replaced on the flight line.

"Now in the current configuration," he added, "it's going to be a significant benefit for maintainers."

Lockheed Martin in December won a $54.3 million Army contract to upgrade its M-TADS/PNVS — the eyes of the Apache attack helicopter — to bring color to the cockpit for the first time.

The 35 Modernized Day Sensor Assembly (M-DSA) kits and spares will also include a new laser-pointer marker and a multimode laser with eye-safe lasing capability. Pilots will be able to identify targets in infrared and in color at further distances through an additional field of view with a higher resolution with the new upgrades to the displays.

For full coverage of the AUSA Global Force Symposium and Exposition, visit www.defensenews.com/gfs.

Twitter: @JenJudson