Navy Eyes Apache Helo's Guns for Use at Sea

Gestart door Ace1, 26/04/2012 | 18:50 uur


US Army to retrofit Apache helos with underwater crew escape system

The US Army is to retrofit its Boeing AH-64D/E Apache attack helicopters with an underwater escape system for the crew as part of a wider rollout of the aircraft's maritime capabilities.

The service disclosed on 31 May that it is to issue Boeing with a sole-source contract to fit its AH-64D Apache Longbow and AH-64E Apache Guardian helicopters with a new canopy severance device that is known as the Underwater Emergency Egress System (UEES).

The Apache has an explosive canopy fitted as standard to aid a crew escape should the aircraft be forced down over water, although this can only be fired before the aircraft submerges. As noted in the notification, the UEES replaces the current detonation system in door and window locations for the pilot and weapons operator in its entirety.

This upgrade is necessary as, when fitted with the top-heavy mast-mounted fire-control radar, the Apache has a tendency to roll and become inverted quickly. Although an Apache flotation system has been developed and tested by the UK, the upgrade adds weight to the aircraft that could otherwise be given to fuel and ordnance.

While the Army Contracting Command Redstone Arsenal (ACC-RSA) did not disclose a timeline or contract value, it did note that the initial effort will cover five test UEES kits.

The UEES modification is part of a growing requirement by the US Army to operate its Apaches in the littoral environment, using US Navy (USN) and US Marine Corps (USMC) ships as launch pads. While the Apache is not a bespoke naval platform in the same way as the Bell AH-1Z Viper fielded by the USMC, the army has already rolled out some modifications for the helicopter and its crews to aid with over-water operations.


The Navy is looking at arming its patrol boats and helicopters with the same withering firepower carried aboard the Army's AH-64 Apache gunship helicopters.

ATK Armament Systems has modified its venerable M230 30mm chain gun to give naval forces a more potent alternative to the .50 caliber machine gun.

For years, the Navy has admired the Apache's powerful, nose-mounted 30mm cannon, but the Navy's strict safety guidelines make the M230's electrically-primed firing system unsafe for use aboard surface vessels.

As a potential solution, the Navy awarded ATK a contract roughly two years ago to develop a version of the M230 with a more traditional, percussion-primed system.

The new M230LF is still an electrically powered chain gun, capable of firing the potent 30mm ammunition at a rate of 200 rounds per minute.

"Everybody loves that high-explosive, dual-purpose round," Lisa Brown, business development director for ATK's Guns Segment, said April 16 at the Navy League's Sea Air Space trade show. "The .50 caliber round probably shoots father, but the size bullet on the lightweight 30mm is much larger. ... It would be perfect for a light patrol boat."

The M230LF, which could also be mounted aboard the Navy's Sea Hawk helicopters, features an improved recoil system and a 60-inch barrel for increased accuracy, according to Eric Rogers, a retired Marine Corps gunner who does business development for ATK's Integrated Weapon Systems branch. The Apache's 30mm cannon sports a 45-inch barrel.

The M230LF also has a linked-ammunition feeding system, similar to most machine guns. The Apache's M230 has a link-less system that's much more complex, Brown said.

"Ammunition has to be uploaded while the bird is on the ground into a link-less magazine which is attached to the gun," she said. "A link-less system is also very bulky and typically heavy."

In addition to its new naval application, the M230LF can be used in ground combat applications, ATK officials maintain.

"A lot of people want that same gun on Humvees and also at force-protection" positions on the perimeter at forward operating bases, Brown said.

The Kuwaiti military has fielded a version of the new M230LF, and there has been "a lot of international interest" in the system, she said, adding that the gun will likely "be fielded sooner offshore" to other friendly countries.

While it's still early in the program, ATK officials are working with Naval Sea Systems Command and Naval Air Systems Command develop the M230LF for military use, Brown said.

ATK will spend the next nine months test-firing the new chain gun at various temperature extremes and other conditions, but a formal testing timeline is difficult to predict in the current atmosphere of shrinking defense spending, Brown said.