Ongoing sequestration in the United States has had the unintended consequence of buying the United Kingdom time as it looks to make a decision on the future of its AgustaWestland-Boeing WAH-64D Apache AH.1 attack helicopter fleet, IHS Jane's was told on 31 October.
Speaking at the Seoul International Aerospace and Defence Exhibition (ADEX) in South Korea, David Koopersmith, Vice President Attack Helicopter Programme for Boeing, said that sequestration has delayed the US Army's AH-64E new-build programme, affording the UK additional breathing space as it grapples with obsolescence issues on its older model AH-64D Block 1 aircraft.
"With the US Army staring down the tunnel of sequestration, the new-build of 56 [AH-64E] helicopters has been delayed [634 AH-64Ds will also be remanufactured to AH-64E standard, of which 43 have been done to date]," Koopersmith said. "The [US Army] production line will not now start until about 2019/2020 and will run through until at least 2026, giving the UK the luxury of some flexibility."
In late 2012 the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) announced it was to launch a capability sustainment programme (CSP) for its 66-strong Apache AH.1 fleet, as it looks to sustain the capability out to 2040 and beyond. The concern in the UK was that it would struggle to support its Block I helicopters with the US fielding a mixed-force of AH-64D Block II and AH-64E (formerly known as AH-64D Block III) Apaches from 2017, the date when new-build AH-64E production for the US Army was set to begin.
The CSP is to look at a number of options for the British Army's attack helicopter force that comprise scrapping the capability altogether once the Apache AH.1s are no longer able to be supported; remanufacture the AH.1 airframes into AH-64E standard helicopters; buy new-build AH-64Es; or buy a new type altogether.
Given the Apache's performance in Afghanistan and Libya, the British Army is extremely keen to retain the capability, leading to the remanufacture of the existing airframes or the purchase of new aircraft being the two most likely options. Of these, Koopersmith said that remanufacture makes the most sense, saying: "I anticipate [that the UK] will want to remanufacture. You take the most costly systems on the aircraft - the M-TADS [targeting system], the fire control system, and the engines, and put them all into newly-built airframes. You basically zero-time the aircraft, while reusing all of the most expensive items."
The UK CSP has yet to report the conclusions of its Apache study, and the MoD has not given a date as to when this might happen.