Two posts on Strategy Page discuss the Longbow (AH-64D) version of the Army’s Apache attack helicopter.
First, in Apache Gets High:
The U.S. Armys AH-64 Apache helicopter gunship was designed to operate low, even taking cover behind trees, hills or buildings. But the fire control systems of the “Longbow” version of Apache enable the choppers to stay at 5,000 feet, and still get a close look at what’s down there, day or night. At that altitude, the AH-64 is safe from most ground fire, and there’s a lot of that in Iraq and Afghanistan. While the Apache was built to take a lot of damage, hit it enough and it comes down, or has to limp home for repairs.
About a quarter of the armys 24 AH-64 battalion (18 Apaches each) are in Iraq or Afghanistan at any given time. The biggest problem has been maintenance. The electronics in the Longbow system are particularly time consuming to keep going. So by adopting the high altitude tactic, there is less battle damage, and less stress from the violent maneuvering encountered when flying close to the ground. The Apaches still go low, but only when the occasion demands it it.
Then, in Let There Be Longbow All Around:
While all U.S. Army active duty AH-64s are using the Longbow fire control and all-weather radar system, several hundred reserve AH-64s are older models are not. So the army is upgrading the reserve unit AH-64s to AH-64D (Longbow equipped) standards.
I had thought that at one point a lot of the Longbow equipment was being removed from Apaches serving in Iraq because it wasn’t being used and, therefore, wasn’t worth the maintenance nightmare.
Meanwhile, 35 of Egypt’s Apaches have been upgraded to a limited Longbow configuration which does not include the advanced Longbow radar.