• Boeing proposed its AH-64E Apache attack helicopter for Defence’s Land 4503 program.
    Boeing proposed its AH-64E Apache attack helicopter for Defence’s Land 4503 program. Boeing

Boeing Defence Australia managing director Darren Edwards has revealed, possibly to no-one’s surprise, that Boeing is proposing its AH-64E Apache attack helicopter for Defence’s Land 4503 (armed reconnaissance helicopter) program.

Edwards said late last week that the proposal, for 29 Apaches, will include a mix of Foreign Military Sales (FMS) and Direct Commercial Sale (DCS) acquisition methodology, which he says will maximise potential benefit to local industry.

“We’ve approached this from a capability perspective, we have a capability offering that includes FMS and DCS – training capabilities, spares and repairs and a lot of emphasis on a sovereign capability here in Australia because, at the end of the day, this is going to be an Australian platform and an Australian-operated and sovereign capability, so we need to build that from the ground up,” Edwards said.

Edwards explained that US law requires some elements of an Apache sale to a foreign government to be done through the FMS process, but that also comes with the advantage of economy of scale, as the Australian helicopters would be joining a global fleet of more than 1180 Apaches. The Boeing proposal is also based on what Edwards said would be a “maximised” DCS component, with the focus on sustainment.

“That really means how we get the most local industry content into the sustainment of this platform from day one. We have an effort already underway to figure out how we maximise Australian Industry Content (AIC) and in particular small to medium enterprises (SME) and how we can plug them into the Boeing Company and make them part of the global Apache supply chain if they’re successful,” he said.

BDA has formed the Boeing Rotorcraft Network Australia (BRNA) to facilitate local industry bids for work packages across its Australian rotary wing enterprise, which includes the CH-47F Chinook fleet in Townsville and the Helicopter Aircrew Training System (HATS) program at Nowra. Edwards said 43 Apache work packages have already been posted on the BRNA ICN gateway, to gauge the capability of local industry to participate in its bid.

The Apache on offer to Australia is the latest ‘Version 6’ configuration now under production for the US Army, which Boeing revealed has an upgraded Northrop Grumman APG-78 Longbow Fire Control Radar, offering twice the range of earlier versions and, importantly for the Army Aviation, a maritime capability, which could support amphibious warfare operations.

The radar has been upgraded to accommodate the longer range of the US AGM-179 Joint Air to Ground Missile (JAGM), which is intended to replace the current Lockheed Martin AGM-114 Hellfire munition. The new Longbow radar has an unclassified range of 16km, double that of the earlier variants.

Terry Jamieson, Boeing Global Vertical Lift Sales and Marketing also revealed that Boeing has sufficient Apache orders today for production to continue through to 2028. However, he said there are contingencies built into the schedule to accommodate potential FMS customers such as Australia and the company could meet Defence’s requirements for Initial Operational Capability (IOC) and Final Operational Capability (FOC).

“2028 is not a hard-set date, as other customers will either want to remanufacture their AH-64Ds to E models, or existing customers will want to expand their current fleet, or new customers will buy Apache,” Jamieson said. “Quite honestly, based on the trends we’re seeing, we expect (the Apache) production line will extend beyond 2028.”

In the next issue of Defence Week, we will examine Bell’s Land 4503 proposal, including its relationship with BAE Systems Australia for in-country support.

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