South Korea has decided to equip its new AH-64E helicopter gunships with all-weather targeting systems. South Korea has ordered the first 36 M-TADS/PNVS (“Arrowhead”) systems at a cost of $6.8 million each. Delivery and installation will not be completed until 2018. These electronics are being installed on the 36 AH-64s (Apaches) that South Korea recently purchased. South Korean Army aviators have seen this equipment in action on U.S. AH-64s stationed in South Korea and have a good idea what a benefit it is.
Over the last decade the U.S. Army developed and began installing this new fire control system for its AH-64s. Arrowhead uses the latest night vision devices (light enhancement and thermal, or heat, based) and fire control electronics to enable AH-64 crews to operate more safely, and effectively, at lower altitudes and in any weather. This is particularly critical in urban areas.
Work on Arrowhead got a boost after the Iraq invasion in 2003, which was followed by a growing amount of urban fighting. This created the need for an AH-64 that could hover at 800 meters (2,500 feet) altitude (safe from most small arms fire) and use its high resolution sensors to see who was doing what for out to eight kilometers (five miles) away. Arrowhead could do that, and now most American AH-64s have Arrowhead and many transport helicopters as well (to make night flying safer).
In the 1990s, the army developed another advanced fire control system for their AH-64s, Longbow. But this system was designed for the original mission: flying at higher altitudes and looking for and destroying distant enemy armored vehicles. The Longbow allowed the AH-64 to go after armored vehicles at night and in bad weather. In the past, potential American enemies practiced moving their armor at night and bad weather, to avoid helicopters armed with long range missiles (like Hellfire or TOW). Longbow was doubly lethal because it was designed to avoid giving away its position when using its radar. AH-64s also had electronic countermeasures. Arrowhead, on the other hand, made night and bad weather deadly for enemy troops thinking they could sneak through urban areas unobserved. Longbow could not spot these guys, but Arrowhead could and did.
The newest version of the AH-64 is the Block III. This version had its first flight five years ago. The army is 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 entered service two years ago. 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 has Internet like capabilities with other aircraft and ground troops. Block III is able to control several UAVs and launch missiles at targets spotted by its UAVs. The Block III radar has longer range and onboard computers are much more powerful. The electronics are easier to upgrade and maintain. The combination of Longbow, Arrowhead, and Internet capabilities greatly increased 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.