Army Grey Eagle drone (left) and AH-64 Apache (right)

VIRGINIA BEACH, VA.: Manned-Unmanned Teaming, when manned aircraft crews control drones from their cockpit, is a child of the drone revolution still in its infancy. So maybe it’s no surprise that Army Apache helicopter units with new AH-64Es equipped to control MQ-1C Grey Eagle armed drones have gotten off to a crawl rather than a run using… Keep reading →

AUSA: The Army has scheduled a news conference for Wednesday to announce that from that day on, the Block III version of Boeing Co.’s AH-64D Apache Longbow attack helicopter will instead be designated the AH-64E. Program officials will make the announcement at this year’s annual meeting of the Association of the United States Army, the largest yearly meeting of top service and industry officials.

The Army decided to replace “AH-64D Block III” with “AH-64E” after the Defense Acquisition Board, a high-level Pentagon committee, approved full rate production in August. The Army, which plans to buy 690 AH-64Es, decided the new designation is warranted because the soon-to-be “Echo” model of the Apache has so much more capability than the AH-64D Block I’s and Block II’s it’s replacing, the first of which came into service in 1997. Keep reading →

A YouTube video of an American AH-64 Apache attack helicopter crashing in Afghanistan has gone viral, with commentators expert and otherwise chiming in on the pilot’s mistakes and appropriate punishments. The International Security Assistance Force told the Pentagon-supported newspaper Stars and Stripes that they “believe the video shows a crash which occurred in Paktika province on Feb. 6” and which is now under investigation, but ISAF has been otherwise unforthcoming. The video shows the gunship swooping low over a U.S. outpost, then coming round for another pass that takes it too low, bouncing over the snowy ground and ultimately flipping over. Online speculation is rife that the pilot was showing off rather than conducting legitimate training maneuvers, and it seems unlikely any commander would authorize such dangerously low passes over friendly troops outside of a life-or-death combat situation, but hard facts are hard to find. Keep reading →

Washington: After a series of successful flight tests in New Mexico last week, a version of the Joint Tactical Radio System could be back in the Army’s arsenal as soon as next fiscal year.

An airborne version of the Lockheed Martin-built radio, known as Airborne/Maritime Fixed JTRS, flew several test flights aboard the Army’s newest Apache attack helicopter last week. The tests coincided with the service’s ongoing Network Integration Experiment at White Sands Missile Range. The AMF-equipped Apache flew one of its six operational “vignettes” as part of the NIE, Mark Norris, Lockheed’s vice president for AMF JTRS, said. The other five were conducted by company officials, he said.

Program officials put the AMF through its paces during the drills. The first two tests looked at the radio’s effective range and ability to connect with ground units, said Doug Booth, director of business development for the system. The next three exercises examined how fast the radio could reconnect with ground units after a signal loss, as well as the system’s ability to transmit imagery from the Apache’s on-board camera. The final test, with the Army, looked at how AMF performed within the the service’s network. Without going into operational specifics, Booth said the radio passed all six tests “with flying colors.”

Service officials will decide whether to move AMF into initial production in early fiscal year 2013.
That decision will coincide with service plans to replace the handheld version of JTRS known as the Ground Mobile Radio. Excessive costs and schedule delays prompted the cancellation of that Boeing-built JTRS variant in October. Lackluster performances at past NIEs helped seal the program’s fate, Army acquisition chief Heidi Shyu said at the Association of U.S. Army’s annual conference that month.

Overall success of AMF aside, there are a few things the Lockheed team still has to work out on the program. Getting the radio to work flawlessly with both the Apache and the Army communications network is one of those challenges, noted Alex Moore, AMF business development lead for Lockheed. “Integration is going to be a big piece . . .and we are just trying to take it one step at a time,” he said. During the imagery tests there was some difficulty between the Apache and AMF with collecting the images, he said. But once the data was moved into the Army network, the data moved “seamlessly”, Moore added. That issue among others were just “small pieces that [we] have to work through,” Booth said.

Just getting the AMF-equipped Apache ready for live-flight tests was a significant achievement on its own, Norris explained. Lockheed officials outfitted the helicopter with AMF, synced up the radio with the helicopter’s own communications systems and got it flying in a matter of weeks. “I would challenge anybody to do that,” he said.

Paris: Boeing’s military aircraft business expects its international sales to grow by some 5 percent over the next five to seven years, president Chris Chadwick told Breaking Defense.

He said Boeing sees “about a five- to seven-year window of opportunity that only comes along once in a while in the international arena.” Keep reading →