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
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).