Australia selects AH-64E Apache as army reconnaissance helicopter replacement

AH-64E Australian Army colours - Boeing

The Australia Department of Defence (DoD) has confirmed on 15 January that it has selected the Boeing AH-64E Apache attack helicopter to replace the Australian Army’s current fleet of 22 Airbus Tiger Armed Reconnaissance Helicopters (ARHs) under Project the Land 4503 programme.

“The Apache Guardian is the most lethal, most survivable, and lowest-risk option, meeting all [the DoD’s] capability, through-life support, security, and certification requirements,” said Defence Minister Linda Reynolds in a statement.

“By pursuing a proven and low-risk system offered by the Apache, [the DoD] will avoid the ongoing cost and schedule risk typically associated with developmental platforms.”

According to the DoD, the Land 4503 requirement calls for 29 helicopters including five for training. The cost of the 29 AH-64E Apaches has yet to be disclosed, but it is expected that the deal will be worth approximately A$4 billion inclusive of spares, sensors and other ancillary equipment, training, and associated infrastructure.

A DoD request for information (RfI) released in July 2019 called for an initial operational capability (IOC) of one squadron of 12 aircraft by 2026 with the ability to operationally deploy four of these aircraft. Full operational capability (FOC) with at least 12 deployable and five training aircraft is expected to occur by 2028.

The AH-64E was chosen over the Bell AH-1Z Viper, although Airbus Australian Pacific attempted to convince the DoD to retain the Tiger ARH fleet by offering a life extension programme that leverages features of the European Tiger Mk3 upgrade programme as well as source seven additional Tiger airframes from another European operator to bring the fleet up to the required 29 aircraft.

Australia’s decision to replace the Tiger ARH fleet in the mid-2020s was first disclosed in the 2016 Defence White Paper. The type entered service in December 2004 and initially experienced performance and platform availability deficiencies but is now delivering on its promised capabilities, with Airbus noting that ARH sortie-completion rates are now of more than 95 percent along with reduced operating costs by around 30 percent.

by Jr Ng