This from RP Defence
One such example is how Col. Shane Openshaw, the Army’s AH-64 Apache program manager is eyeing F-35-style distributed aperture sensor (DAS) tech for use on the Apache. “We’re thinking about how to do integration” with DAS-style technology on the third development phase of the Block III Apache sometime later this decade, Openshaw told me this week. “It’s very much in the realm of the possible.”
The F-35’s DAS system consists of six infrared cameras mounted in the airplane’s skin providing a 360-degree sphere of coverage around the jet. Video filmed by the cameras is fed directly onto a screen on the pilots helmet visor allowing him to literally look down through the bottom of his aircraft. Now, the system is still having its teething issues, especially the helmet part, but an F-35 flying over Maryland and Virginia recently tracked a missile launch in Florida by using its DAS system.
Now, the Apaches may not necessarily use the same system as the F-35, but its the concept that Openshaw likes. The miniaturization of sensor tech could someday allow him to install a network of tiny but powerful sensors around the Apache’s airframe and feed their data back to the cockpit. He pointed out that this could allow him to remove the 400-pound sensor turret on the helo’s nose. The reduced weight would improve the aircraft’s speed and fuel and weapons load.
Combine this with advancements in engine and blade tech that are already in the works — and possibly even pusher propellers mounted on the aft of the chopper — and modified versions of the basic Apache design could inch Army aviation ever closer to achieving the speed, altitude and maneuverability breakthroughs that the service wants from its next generation helo fleet, said Openshaw.
The UK’s Apache AH1′s are in many ways the most advanced model in existence anywhere, in others perhaps less so, but the problem the UK’s faces is that it has a relatively large fleet of Apache’s with some elements approaching block obsolescence but very little money to upgrade. With the coming reductions in Army manpower, continuing uncertainty about the future of the Multi Role Brigade, FRES and Future Force 2020 it may soon come down to choices between historic Regiments and an upgraded Apache fleet.
Perhaps the outcome will be an announcement where only part of the fleet is selectively upgraded with the rest being used for spares, oh, isn’t that happening now?