November 12, 2011: The U.S. Army has received the first of 51 "low rate initial production" Block III models of the AH-64 Apache helicopter gunship. This is the newest version of the AH-64, and had its first flight three years ago. The U.S. Army will be upgrading all of its 634 AH-64s to the new Block III standard, a process that won't be completed until 2020. The first Block IIIs are entering service now, and will be heavily used to reveal any design or manufacturing flaws. These will be fixed before mass production and conversion begins.
Block III has a lot of improvements. One of the notable ones is a more powerful and fuel efficient engine, as well as much improved electronics. Block III will also have Internet like capabilities with other aircraft and ground troops. Block III will be able to control several UAVs, and launch missiles at targets spotted by its UAVs. The Block III radar will have longer range and onboard computers will be much more powerful. The electronics will be easier to upgrade and maintain. The combination of improved fire control and Internet capabilities is expected to greatly increase the capabilities of the AH-64.
The 7.5 ton AH-64D carries a pilot and a weapons officer, as well as up to 16 Hellfire missiles (plus the 30mm automatic cannon). Sorties average three hours. The AH-64 can operate at night and has a top speed of 260 kilometers an hour.
In addition to the U.S. Army, the Block III is also being bought by the UAE (United Arab Emirates) which is buying 60. Neighboring Saudi Arabia recently ordered 70 of the same model, as well as upgrades for its existing twelve AH-64s, to the Block III standard. Many other of the existing 1,100 AH-64s may be upgraded as well.