The AH-64 Apache is an amazingly capable attack helicopter, with a history that dates back to 1975. The first prototype, the YAH-64, was developed by Hughes. Production began with the AH-64A in 1983. Current models are produced by Boeing, and most are going through upgrades to reach the more modern AH-64D specification.

The Apache was designed to effectively wipe out any ground targets. Its Hellfire missiles are so effective at penetrating tank armor that the military still keeps the exact figures classified. Once the missile penetrates the tank, the explosion destroys the vehicle and its crew. Contrary to popular belief, only the most recent implementation of the second and third-generation Hellfire is a true "fire and forget" missile. The original missiles were guided by a laser, which had to be "painted" onto the target until impact. Second-generation Hellfire II missiles have a laser reacquisitioning system built in, which allows them to maintain correct trajectory without forcing the pilot to maintain lock on the target. The laser can be emitted from the Apache itself, or by a more maneuverable OH-58D Kiowa Warrior helicopter (the military version of the Jetranger / Skyranger helicopters that are usually used by the news media, and by flight-for-life agencies). If fog or other bad weather blocks the laser, or the Apache or Kiowa flee under attack before impact, the missile can easily lose target and fail to detonate. Modern Hellfire RF missiles are guided by radar instead, and truly are "fire and forget." They also contain two warheads, which allow the missiles to plow through reactive armor.

A typical combat load for an AH-64 Apache includes eight Hellfire missiles and 38 2.75" HYDRA rockets. These rockets are point and shoot dumb-fires; they currently have no guidance system. This may change soon, giving them Hellfire-esque qualities. HYDRAs are very effective at dealing with personnel and unarmored vehicles. There are variety of HYDRAs to choose from. M151 "High Explosive" rockets have a burst radius of 10 meters/10 yards, but produce enough shrapnel to be lethal to people up to 50 meters away. M261 Multipurpose Submunition rockets contain nine 3.2 ounce shaped warheads which can penetrate light armor and wipe out personnel. They are designed to produce insane amounts of shrapnel as well, with each submunition becoming about 200 fragments traveling at up to nearly one mile per second. M257 Illumination rockets can illuminate a one square kilometer area with one million candlepower. The M229 is basically an elongated M151 with an additional six pounds of explosive power. The M247 is designed with a shaped charge warhead with minor anti-armor capability. It's similar in purpose to function as the Hellfire, but far less effective, no longer in production. The M255E1 Flechette warhead projects over 1000 hardened steel flechettes, primarily for anti-personnel purposes.

The Apache features a 30mm linear linkless chaingun with a firing rate of 625 rounds per minute. A fully loaded Apache with over three hours worth of gas, eight Hellfires, and 38 HYDRAs can carry 1200 rounds. The chaingun is guided by the movement of the pilot's helmet, which has Forward-Looking Infrared (FLIR) and night vision capabilities.

The Apache's powerful twin engines produce a combined shaft horsepower of over 3600. This prodigious power allows the Apache to carry a full complement of weapons and fuel that was never before possible. The Huey Super Cobra fits a similar role, but can't even touch the Apache's armament and range capabilities.

The Apache is constantly being upgraded, with the latest and greatest version being the AH-64D Longbow. The greatest enhancement to this model is its Fire Control Radar (FCR), which gives it impressive strategic abilities. During a 1995 operational test, the Longbow demonstrated its superiority to the AH-64A. Whereas traditional Apaches use the helmet to "paint" targets, the Longbow can lock on using its radar. In the time that it takes the Apache to launch a missile, it can switch to another target and attack again. The missile will reach its destination on its own. During testing, it was conclusively demonstrated that a single Longbow Apache can perform a radar sweep on 128 battlefield targets, and prioritize them depending on what poses the greatest threat to the helicopters. This is all done automatically and on-the-fly by the Longbow's FCR. This information can be relayed to other Apaches that aren't Longbow equipped, and a coordinated attack can begin within 30 seconds.

This allows the Apache to dominate the battlefield. A group of helicopters can easily stroll into a combat situation and immediately determine what to attack first, such as surface-to-air missile batteries. The Hellfire RF missiles can even be fired from a masked position, hiding behind a hill for example. Hellfires can easily be launched from seven kilometers away, well before an attack is anticipated. As I said before, the army is currently working on giving the HYDRA rockets the same capabilities. If this happens, massive attacks can be plotted entirely before the helicopters are within visual range. As it stands now, the HYDRA is far more effective with dealing with people and unarmored vehicles. Using a Hellfire on a truck is a huge waste of money and effort. Once the HYDRA has a guidance system, the strategic capabilities of the Apache will explode. For years, the Apache has been almost entirely defenseless against other aircraft, but they are finally capable of launching heat-seeking air-to-air missiles, giving it the ability to defend itself from every type of battlefield threat (except maybe a nuclear blast).

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