The army is developing capability that will enable Apache pilots to control the unmanned aerial vehicles' (UAV) sensors and weapons from the cockpit, said Colonel Jeff White, US Army Training and Doctrine Command capabilities manager for reconnaissance and attack.
"We think that capability will be approved and starting to field in [Fiscal Year] 2019," he said. "We don't think there will be delays because of the importance of the additional capabilities." The army has already begun fielding Apaches that can transmit and receive full-motion video with AAI RQ-7 Shadow and MQ-1C Gray Eagle UAVs, he added. Each active duty aviation division is expected to receive a company of MQ-1Cs under its aviation restructure initiative (ARI).
At the same time, the army is planning to replace its AH-64Ds with more capable E-models. The replacement would be facilitated with a multi-year contract for FY2017-21, Colonel Jeff Hager, the army's Apache programme manager, said during the same event. That plan still needs Pentagon approval by March 2016.
Meanwhile, the army has already retired two Kiowa units and has begun divesting a third. This fulfils a major portion of the ARI, which also entails the Army National Guard transferring all 192 of its Apaches to the active-duty army in exchange for 111 Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawks.
The ARI has been controversial on Capitol Hill, but Col White said the army is continuing to implement the plan. Congress last year prohibited the transfer of the national guard's Apaches to the active component until fiscal year 2016 and called for an independent study of the plan in the interim.
MUM-T is a powerful force multiplier. However, the army's current fleet of UAVs is ill-equipped to handle the proliferation of manportable air defence systems (MANPADS) and jamming capability the United States is likely to encounter in future conflicts. In order for the army to fully realise its Apache MUM-T plans, it will have to begin making its UAVs more capable too.
An OH-58D Kiowa Warrior helicopter takes off from Forward Operating Base MacKenzie in Iraq after being armed and refueled.