The Apache has been designed as a helicopter fighting the enemy armored forces, and to support the infantry. It has replaced the Bell Ah-1 Cobra helicopter, which had proved itself during the Vietnam War and appointed tactics in the air for its successors. The first specimen of AH-64 was built in 1975, and mass production ran in 1982. Now the US has approx. 800 Apaches in several variants and various modifications. Other AH-64 users are: Australia, Saudi Arabia, Israel, the Netherlands, Greece, Japan and others. The United Kingdom uses its own, modified version of the Apache Longbow, called Westland WAH-64 Apache.
Originally one AH-64A cost over $ 14 million, but the cost was increasing with each new variant of the helicopter rising to more than $ 35 million for the AH-64E. Interestingly, Greece paid an average of up to $ 56.25 million for the AH-64D when ordering 12 helicopters.
Thanks to its armament and armor the Apache is sometimes called the “flying tank”. The helicopter is equipped with an automatic 30 mm cannon M230A1 Hughes Chain Gun, a rate of 625 rounds per minute, and 5-meter wings hitching terrible Hellfire antitank missiles (it was the Hellfire missile, mistakenly fired from the Apache, which destroyed an American M1 Abrams tank during the Gulf War.), or various air-to-ground rockets – usually 70mm Hydra rockets.
The AH-64 has been created to dominate every battlefield, but also to improve its combat survivability. The AH-64’s armor was designed to sustain a hit from 23 mm (0.91 in) rounds. The cabin crew is placed in a real kevlar want, intended to ensure the greatest possible chance of survival in case of receiving severe damage. The Apache has rotor blades made of composite, and this means that it can continue the flight even with the rotor badly damaged. Both engines are spaced apart and protected by armor plate, which reduces the chance of losing both of them when one gets a hit. In the event of an emergency landing, the crew can be confident of survival when the machine hits the earth with speed no greater than 46 km/h (28 miles/h). In addition, any leakage of fuel or engine oil for some time does not diminish the critical performance of the helicopter, which in a difficult situation, can decide about the life of the crew.
The Apache has been fitted with various deadly technologies. Thanks to its advanced electronics, neither the pilot nor the gunner does not need to see the target to destroy it – which is very useful in areas with limited visibility (eg. In the mountains, or just at night). The AH-64 Longbow variant can easily track down moving vehicles from a distance of up to 7 km (over 4 miles), and to automatically track up to 256 targets simultaneously. In Afghanistan, the Apache earned the nickname “Monster”, because these machines were bringing death and destruction, regardless of weather conditions and visibility. Also, the AH-64 has, among other things missile protection, night-vision sensor and fire control system. Both members of the crew (pilot and gunner) have helmets with the IHADSS technology, which gives them the possibility of aiming an automatic 30mm cannon to the direction the head is pointing.
The Apache was involved in several conflicts, each time being a great support for ground troops and giving no chances for enemy armored units. Its first serious combat test was the Operation Desert Storm. During the first 100 hours of fighting, 277 Apache destroyed 278 Iraqi tanks, plus an unspecified number of combat vehicles and infantry, losing only one machine. The AH-64 also took part in operations in the Balkans, in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Lebanon, in the Gaza Strip and others. Its reliability was put to test in the harsh mountains of Afghanistan, where the helicopters were particularly vulnerable to enemy fire, and despite the many skirmishes, where Apaches received serious damage, almost always managed to return safely to base. During this service, they often cooperated with light reconnaissance helicopters OH-58D Kiowa, but the US Army has the idea of sending all Kiowa to their retirement in the short term by replacing them with more Apaches, taken from the Army Reserve and the National Guard.
The Apache originally had been developed in Hughes Helicopters, which took over McDonnell Douglas, and this, in turn, bought the Boeing AH-64 where they are today produced and modified. However, there are plans to end the production in 2026, and then focus on the creation of a new family of helicopters for the US Armed Forces and their implementation around the year 2030. In retirement will be sent the most famous American helicopters: AH-64 Apache, UH-60 Black Hawk, CH-47 Chinook and OH-58 Kiowa. The new family of helicopters is to have common components, such as engines, sensors and avionics.