The Australian government has selected Boeing’s AH-64E Guardian attack helicopters to replace its fleet of 22 Tiger Armed Reconnaissance Helicopters (ARHs), informed the Defense Minister Lynda Reynolds via a press release on Friday.
“This new ARH capability will strengthen Australia’s armed reconnaissance force to better shape our strategic environment and deter actions against our national interest,” Minister Reynolds said.
She added that her ministry had selected the AH-64E Apache Guardian gunships against key criteria of proven ability, maturity and an off-the-shelf operating system. “The Apache Guardian is the most lethal, most survivable and lowest risk option, meeting all of Defence’s capability, through-life support, security, and certification requirements. By pursuing a proven and low-risk system offered by the Apache, Defence will avoid the ongoing cost and schedule risk typically associated with developmental platforms.”
The Australian military currently operates 22 Eurocopter Tiger helicopters for Armed Reconnaissance (ARH) roles, and intends to replace all of them in even greater numbers. According to the sources, Canberra would order 29 Apaches together with spares, sensors, communication systems, training, and required infrastructure from United States for an estimated cost of $3.1 billion. However, this has not yet been confirmed by Washington’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA), which gives the formal approval for the country’s Foreign Military Sales (FMS).
Australian Government also said that the selection was based on the experience with similar equipment in service. ‘Lessons learnt from issues with the ARH Tiger and other rotary wing projects had informed the strategy to seek a proven, mature ARH replacement capability,’ it informed.
“The project will deliver on the Government’s vision to maximise Australian industry involvement in defence capability,” Minister Reynolds further added.
The AH-64E Guardian, or also popularly called ‘Apache Guardian’, is the latest and most advanced version of the AH-64 Apache attack helicopter family, and is the most manufactured in its class. It made the first flight in 1975, and was inducted into service with the US Army in April 1986. Post that, the platform has received constant upgrades and participated in about each conflict United States has been in, and has matured extensively.
The helicopters made highlights in the media recently when two Apaches provided overwatch for U.S. Marines to secure the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, Iraq after armed militants, supported by Iran, attempted to storm the facility in December 2019. Notably, these helicopters have also been deployed by the Indian Air Force against the People’s Liberation Army assets in the ongoing faceoff among India and China in Eastern Ladakh, and gathered a lot of media coverage.
Boeing unveiled the new variant AH-64E with significant improvements over its predecessors in 2012, which was earlier named as AH-64D Block-III. It was redesignated as ‘Guardian’, swaying away from ‘Apache’ namesake, to represent the increased capabilities of the aircraft.
It features improved digital connectivity, more powerful engines with upgraded face gear transmission to accommodate more power, the capability to operate UAVs, improved landing gear, and even new composite rotor blades which enhance the cruise speed, rate of climb, and payload capacity. Its radar-mounted versions also sport new and enhanced Longbow radars, with increased maritime capabilities.