Warplanes: Russian Gunship Flunks The Sand Test


January 2, 2019: Egypt has ordered another ten American AH-64s helicopter gunships. These will be the E model. At the end of 2014, the U.S. delivered ten AH-64D Egypt had ordered in 2009. The United States had held up such deliveries of military equipment because the Egyptian Army replaced the elected president of Egypt in mid-2013. The former president was sympathetic to Islamic radicals and after the coup, the Islamic terrorists in Egypt went on a rampage. The 35 AH-64Ds Egypt already had in 2013 proved very useful in dealing with the Islamic terrorists. So the U.S. is, out of mutual interest, allowed the ten AH-64Ds Egypt had on order to be delivered. Egypt had first ordered 24 AH-64As in 1994 and by 2000 had 36 of them. One was subsequently lost but the rest were upgraded to the “D” standard between 2003 and 2007.

Egypt was unhappy with the delay in delivering the ten ordered in 2009 and decided to try expanding its helicopter gunship fleet by switching to Russian Ka-52s. The first three arrived in 2017 and Egypt quickly found that the Ka-52s were not as effective as the AH-64s but also had serious problems with desert conditions. This is something the AH-64s had long been adapted to. Other Middle Eastern nations have been using over a hundred AH-64s since the 1990s and the Americans had learned how to equip their AH-64s to operate in the Middle East by the early 1990s.

Egypt is still buying over 40 Ka-52s but these will be for use on their two Mistral amphibious ships that were originally built in France for Russia but that sale was canceled because of the sanctions placed on Russia for invading Ukraine. These Mistrals were modified to handle the Ka-52 and when Egypt later bought the two Mistrals it agreed to buy Ka-52 from Russia for them and to try out some of the gunship versions of the Ka-52. Egypt is now pressuring Russia to make sure all the Ka-52s Egypt receives are modified to operate in desert conditions. Meanwhile, Egypt went back to ordering AH-64s to expand its gunship fleet and to see how well the E model performs before it decides to upgrade some or all of its AH-64Ds to the E standard.

Another Middle Eastern nation, the UAE (United Arab Emirates), is upgrading eight of its 28 AH-64D Apache helicopter gunships to the latest E standard. The UAE will also ordered nine newly built AH-64Es. Work on the UAE upgrade begins in early 2019. The UAE has been using its AH-64s a lot in Yemen since 2015 and has lost two. Many others are in need of refurbishment.

The UAE first began acquiring AH-64s in the early 1990s and their success encouraged the Egyptians to follow. That and the fact that the Israelis were already enthusiastic users of the AH-64. After 2001 UAE undertook several AH-64 upgrade programs. At first, this was to upgrade existing AH-64As to the D standard as well as buying 30 new AH-64Ds in 2010. The UAE goal is to expand and upgrade the AH-64 fleet to 60 AH-64Es by the early 2020s.

The AH-64E made its first flight in 2008 and the U.S. Army received its first ones in 2011. The AH-64E showed up in Afghanistan during early 2014 for field testing. There the 24 AH-64Es with an aviation battalion performed as expected. The E model benefits from three decades of operational experience. The first AH-64 entered service in 1986 and the last of these AH-64As was taken out of service in 2012 for the upgrade to the AH-64D standard. The AH-64B was an upgrade proposed for the early 1990s but was canceled, as was a similar “C” model upgrade, because of Cold War budget cuts. Some of these canceled improvements were in great demand. Thus the “B” and “C” model upgrades were incorporated in the AH-64D Block I (1997). The AH-64D Longbow (because of the radar mast, making it possible to see ground targets and flying obstacles in all weather) models began appearing in 2002. By 2020 at least 634 army AH-64Ds will be upgraded to the new AH-64E standard.

AH-64Es have more powerful and fuel-efficient engines, as well as much improved electronics. AH-64Es also have Internet-like capabilities enabling these gunships to quickly exchange images, video, and so on with other aircraft and ground troops. Each AH-64E can also control several UAVs and launch missiles at targets spotted by these UAVs. The AH-64E radar has longer range and onboard computers are much more powerful than earlier ones. The electronics are easier to upgrade and maintain. The combination of improved fire control and Internet capabilities greatly increases the combat effectiveness of the AH-64E.

The 10 ton AH-64E 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 AH-64E is in service with many foreign nations. Neighboring Saudi Arabia ordered 70. Israel, Kuwait and the UAE also bought in. Many of these are being upgraded to the “E” standard. There are about 1,100 AH-64s (mostly American) in service and most are being upgraded to the E standard.




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