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US Army to retrofit Apache helos with underwater crew escape system

03 June 2019
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A US Army AH-64D Apache helicopter prepares to land aboard USS during an exercise. With an increasing emphasis on maritime operations for the helicopter, the service is to fit an emergency underwater crew escape system. Source: US Navy

The US Army is to retrofit its Boeing AH-64D/E Apache attack helicopters with an underwater escape system for the crew as part of a wider rollout of the aircraft's maritime capabilities.

The service disclosed on 31 May that it is to issue Boeing with a sole-source contract to fit its AH-64D Apache Longbow and AH-64E Apache Guardian helicopters with a new canopy severance device that is known as the Underwater Emergency Egress System (UEES).

The Apache has an explosive canopy fitted as standard to aid a crew escape should the aircraft be forced down over water, although this can only be fired before the aircraft submerges. As noted in the notification, the UEES replaces the current detonation system in door and window locations for the pilot and weapons operator in its entirety.

This upgrade is necessary as, when fitted with the top-heavy mast-mounted fire-control radar, the Apache has a tendency to roll and become inverted quickly. Although an Apache flotation system has been developed and tested by the UK, the upgrade adds weight to the aircraft that could otherwise be given to fuel and ordnance.

While the Army Contracting Command Redstone Arsenal (ACC-RSA) did not disclose a timeline or contract value, it did note that the initial effort will cover five test UEES kits.

The UEES modification is part of a growing requirement by the US Army to operate its Apaches in the littoral environment, using US Navy (USN) and US Marine Corps (USMC) ships as launch pads. While the Apache is not a bespoke naval platform in the same way as the Bell AH-1Z Viper fielded by the USMC, the army has already rolled out some modifications for the helicopter and its crews to aid with over-water operations.

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