Warplanes: The Hardest Working AH-64s


August 28, 2017: The Israeli Air Force again grounded its AH-64 helicopter gunships after one (an AH-64A) crashed while landing at an airbase on August 7th. The pilot was killed and the co-pilot (weapons officer) injured. The cause was investigated and found not to be the same cracked tail rotor blade (discovered during a routine inspection) that caused AH-64s to be grounded in June. The cause of the August crash turned out to have nothing to do with the rotors although details were not made public. The pilot reported a technical problem as the AH-64A was coming in to land and managed to bring the AH-64 down (largely intact) next to the runway.

The grounding in June was because of a 20 cm (7.8 inch) crack in a tail rotor. Inspection of all Israeli AH-64s (and many used by the Americans and other export customers) confirmed that it was not a problem common to other AH-64s and the Israeli helicopters were cleared for regular use. During these groundings AH-64s (or other types of grounded warplanes) can usually still be called on for emergencies. In any event the Israelis have been shifting more of the AH-64 workload to UAVs. Israel began receiving AH-64s in the early 1990s and has worked then hard ever since.

Before the August crash Israel had 46 AH-64s all of them modified and upgraded over the years with Israeli electronics and made capable of using a number of Israeli missiles and sensors. Since the Israeli AH-64s have more hours in combat than any others still in service the Israelis have to carefully inspect them for signs of age (material fatigue and worn out components) and promptly attend to the problem. Age and lots of flight hours are the main causes of damage as the Israeli AH-64 defenses have managed to keep them safe from ground attack.

Back in 2010 the Israeli Air Force decided to halt upgrading its older AH-64A Apache helicopter gunships to the all-weather AH-64D "Longbow" version. At that point 17 of 47 Israeli AH-64s had been upgraded. The issue was cost and growing hostility by the U.S. government (and refusal to supply key items). Eventually less expensive Israeli sources were found for the electronics needed to achieve many of the capabilities of the D model. Using Israeli electronics also meant it was easier integrating AH-64 systems with Israeli made communications and battle management systems. This also reduced the cost as has the decision to switch to Israeli missiles instead of the American Hellfire.

With the improved electronics the AH-64 can be used at night and in bad weather, and be able to spot things on the ground and far (about ten kilometers) away. Up to sixteen missiles (plus its 30mm cannon) can be carried, and these weapons are particularly useful for urban warfare, where you want to minimize civilian casualties. It was the civilian casualties sometimes caused when Israeli AH-64s were used against Islamic terrorists in Gaza that created political opposition to the U.S. selling Israel more AH-64s or allowing them to upgrade using American suppliers.

Since 2009 Israel has used the original AH-64A and the few AH-64Ds it received from the U.S. against Islamic terrorist group Hamas in Gaza. Based on past experience, Israel developed tactics that integrated the AH-64s closely with the ground units. The Israelis examined how the U.S. has been using AH-64s in Iraq and Afghanistan, and picked up some tips there as well. Now the Israelis are using all that knowledge to upgrade and refurbish their AH-64s with Israeli equipment and ideas and also switch to UAVs or AH-64s controlling one or more UAVs in combat.




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