Army Ready to Upgrade AH-64E Apache Sensors

The U.S. Army hopes to equip its first unit of Apache helicopters with the newest daytime sensors by this time next year.

The Apache Sensors Product Office recently accepted delivery of Lockheed Martin’s new Modernized Day Sensor Assembly Laser Rangefinder Designator, or LRFD, the first component to be fielded in the Modernized Day Sensor Assembly.

The modernized LRFD is the first phase of upgrades for the M-DSA program, and will provide enhanced performance to the MTADS/PNVS system, Army officials maintain.

“This laser kit, what we call M-DSA phase one, is an investment by the Army and the Program Executive Office for Aviation, and we’re looking forward to the reliability and maintainability improvements that this laser will bring to the MTADS system,” said  Lt. Col. Steven Van Riper, product manager for Apache Sensor, in an Army press release. “The maintainers will have less of a burden when it comes to keeping the system up and fully operational, while our aircrews will be able to reap the benefits of the performance improvements.”

The new sensors are part of a duel contract the Army awarded to Lockheed Martin in February worth $162 million.

The current laser features a tactical wavelength in the system, Cold War technology that’s expensive to maintain. The new laser incorporates a second EyeSafe wavelength, the newest technology available. It replaces the old flash lamp technology to a more reliable, more robust diode pump laser technology.

The diode pump is the primary driver of increasing the Army’s reliability and maintainability numbers, Army officials maintain. Phase one will be fielded later this year and will be fully capable by 2016, according to Matt Hoffman, director of MTADS/PNVS programs at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control.

The Army’s goal is to retrofit the M-DSA and equip the AH-64E Apache units first.

The second phase, scheduled to begin in 2016, will include all the remaining elements in the DSA such as a high definition color television, laser pointer marker, upgraded laser spot tracker, and a state-of-the-art inertia measuring unit for stability and extended range in the system.

“We are meeting all of our milestones in terms of production ramp rate, moving towards maintaining our production rate of over 20 lasers per month,” Van Riper said. “We’re stepping up to that incrementally using a very deliberate production engineering process.”

  • jamesb

    ……Airwolf lives……

    • blight_

      Airwolf would be the Block III that’s still on the rocks. Come on Boeing…

  • blight_

    “Tactical wavelength”?

    • Guest

      Yes. The laser sends out a code that the missile then detects/reads…

      • blight_

        Oh, I just thought the laser used had a particular wavelength (Infrared?) that was judged by powerpoint to be Tactical, and therefore Awesome.

        What do you mean by code?

        • William_C1

          As far as I know the beam is “encoded” in a way that that a launched Hellfire will pick up on it. Theoretically multiple lasers could be set at different frequencies in a manner that an Apache could fire several Hellfires simultaneously and have them go after the different targets. That probably requires a lot of coordination however.

          • Chuck

            The sentence being referred to is gibberish. The new laser is a simpler, maintenance friendly design and can operate in a second wavelength that is safer for combatants’ eyes. I’m not sure other systems are upgraded to operate with that new wavelength, yet, but this future-proofs the design — as the military has a long-term goal to switch over to laser designators that are not eye-damaging. Friendlies get lit up with laser designators, sometimes, so it’s not just a feel-good measure.

            I believe the author’s confusion is probably based on some document they are reading that references “tactical wavelength” vs “EyeSafe wavelength”, where “tactical wavelength” simply means “the wavelength the U.S. military currently uses for tactical lasers”. But that has nothing to do, in itself, with cold war technology. The old laser probably uses some kind of bulky chemical laser while the new laser is a simple solid-state design. That’s the real difference here, and has pretty much nothing to do with wavelength.

          • livefrombg

            Chuck is correct. The old “Cold War Technology” laser is a chemical laser at a specific wavelength (I know the composition and value, but not sure if it is declassified) at Class V power levels that is modulated (the encoding that you mention) at a certain 32-bit value for missile discrimination. The issue at hand is the wavelength in current production is invisible. At Class V levels, a trooper could be blinded by reflection/scattering of the pulsed beam and never know why/how his retina got fried.

          • blight_

            So the beam amplitude itself is modulated? Interesting, considering amplitude might vary as a function of wear on the chemical laser and atmospheric conditions, unless I’m misunderstanding what you meant by “power levels that is modulated at a certain 32-bit value”. I figured it would be easier to implement pulsing the laser at a particular frequency, but as my line of work has nothing to do with lasers…

            The interwebs merely says: (and this is from googling “Hellfire missile laser wavelength”)

            “Guidance is by a semi-active laser seeker tracking a coded laser beam reflected from a designated target using a 1.06 µm wavelength. The missile can also be launched from low level before lock on and will then search for the reflected beam and lock onto target. With different designator codes it is possible to ripple fire the missiles against different targets. This missile has a minimum range of 1.5 km and a maximum range of 8 km.”

            And out of StarkAerospace (snicker, IRON MAN)

    • wpnexp

      Different IR wavelengths do better in fog and dust. Mid-range IR wavelenghts (3-5 microns?) seem to do the best. The coding involved is for missile identification purposes. That allows different helicopters to shoot against different targets, and not having the missiles get confused as to its intended target. Also, an enemy laser could be fired to confuse the missile if it wasn’t coded. Seems this might invovle the pulse rate that the laser uses but I am not sure. But, the real improvement seems to be the maintainability of the laser. The helicopter is only useful if it is flying. If the laser doesn’t work, not much sense in flying it.

  • hibeam

    I don’t think we can call it the Apache anymore. The AH-64E Indigenous American.

  • Lance

    So even before the AH-64E enters service they upgrade them.

    • Guest

      Gotta get that .capability.

    • Guest

      It’s in service guy

  • jamesb

    Gotta get that money……

  • hardmack

    All that matter is does this make it easier for them to upload cool guy videos onto live leak for me to watch?

  • david

    Still waiting for phasers and quantum torpedos ;)

  • sean

    Will these Apaches have transmissions? haha

  • Edward Snowden

    Can they install the latest version of PRISM also ?

    • JoeSovereign

      This upgrade also includes all the domestic maps for use in American cities.

  • Eric Pope
  • Eric Pope
  • hibeam

    The real question is can these be used without startling a civilian? Otherwise the Commander in Golf will not allow them to be used to protect our troops in combat.

  • sean

    Let’s hope these new Apaches won’t be used to overthrow another arab ruler and replace him with a islamic wacko like Obama has done in libya and egypt.

    • AAA

      Please tell me you’re not that obtuse with regards to foreign affairs. Did Obama make it rain on you this week as well?

      • xJx

        He rains misery on all.

    • blight_

      Funny, I thought Gaddafi and Mubarak were overthrown by partisans and rabble.

      In the case of Gaddafi, it was because his military melted away. In the other, because they didn’t intervene.

    • wpnexp

      No, he will foment a revolution, allow the islamic wackos take over via a rigged election, then sell them the Apaches, saying he is supporting democracy.

  • Nick

    Apaches and every other type aircraft gets upgrades all the time, but we can’t get upgraded rifles for us Grunts…

    • Nick
  • livefrombg

    Bummer. Seems like they should leave the original laser in production and just issue glasses that our troops can wear that will filter out the wavelength. Gives the Apache one more “weapon” to shine in a haji’s eyes to cause a casualty.

    • Guest

      They can’t. They don’t make the parts anymore. Upgrade through obsolescence.

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