The U.S. Army has officially designated the newest version of its Apache helicopter the E model, and service officials are planning to issue a contract to Boeing to begin full-rate production.
The full-rate production decision issued in August is “probably the single largest decision for this program since Block Is and Block IIs went into production,” says Col. Jeff Hager, the Army’s Apache project manager. The forthcoming contract will include 48 aircraft per year for the U.S. Army for two years as well as 48 foreign sales orders. The anticipated production rate will be four per month for the Army with three monthly for international customers during full-rate production. The Army plans to buy 690 total.
However, the specter of sequestration — mandated spending cuts set to take place Jan. 1 if the government does not strike a debt-reduction deal — has prompted Hager to begin examining various production rates as Apache would likely suffer a reduction along with other defense projects.
The first AH-64E was delivered to the Army last November, and production has ramped up since to about three deliveries per month in Boeing’s Mesa, Ariz., factory, says David Koopersmith, Boeing’s vice president of attack helicopters. The team briefed reporters on the status of the program at this week’s annual Association of the U.S. Army conference here.
The “Block III” upgrade to the AH-64D fleet has been in the works a few years now. It’s just recently they decided to make a rational decision and change the designation to AH-64E.
It used to be that even relatively minor changes in an aircraft would result in a designation change. But sometime in the 1970s and 1980s, the services got away from that for most aircraft, particularly the F-16 and F-18 fleets.
That led to a mishmash of acronyms and Block/Lot numbers after a designation. For instance, the last production variant of the A-6 was the A-6E. But even after major modifications, the “E” designation remained. So you ended up with birds named “A-6E TRAM” and “A-6E SWIP.” The same with the Intruder’s stablemate the Prowler. All Prowlers are EA-6Bs, but then you’ve got ICAP, ICAP II, EXCAP and ADVCAP. It’s a mess.
Maybe sanity is starting to creep back in.