September 2005 
Volume 04, Issue 5 
Integrated Defense Systems

Apache's plugged in

Apache's plugged in

Annual certification by U.S. Army illustrates AH-64D's growing network-centric abilities


"A network-centric force has a dramatically improved situational awareness and quality of information, which, in turn, leads to dramatic improvements in military effectiveness across the board."

When U.S. Army Secretary Francis Harvey spoke those words at his official welcoming ceremony last December, he was talking about a prime goal of Army transformation.

While Harvey said that fully network-centric operations were a "long-term" goal, the Boeing AH-64D Apache Longbow is already giving warfighters networked capabilities in the field today. And about once a year, Apache again proves its interoperability and demonstrates the latest advancements in its NCO functions during testing at Fort Hood, Texas.

Among the technologies that have been certified is the AH-64D's ability to conduct joint communications with U.S. Air Force platforms using the Air Force Application Development Program protocol for message transmission/reception. AFAPD is a "combat-proven force multiplier that provides today's AH-64D aircrews with situational awareness, increased mission effectiveness and increased lethality," said Paul Hutchinson, team leader, Apache NCO/Battlefield Management Integrated Product Team.

AH-64D Apache LongbowAFAPD allows the Apache to exchange messages with the U.S. Air Force's E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System aircraft. Some of the Apache's AFAPD messages are compatible for communications with variants of A-10 and F-16 aircraft.

Apache has been certified, as well, in its use of the Variable Message Format protocol that can be transmitted over the military's Tactical Internet and other systems. By using VMF through various radios, Apache flight crew can exchange fire-support and situational-awareness information and situation and spot reports. The Tactical Internet also lets Apache share information on tracking "blue forces" (friendly forces) using the Beyond Line of Sight Blue Force Tracking radio. Since this radio requires only a line-of-sight connection with a satellite, Apache is assured connectivity in almost any situation.

Apache can use these various systems to feed information on friendly and enemy forces to a database accessed by several command and control systems.

The Apache's annual interoperability evaluations take place at the Fort Hood's Aviation Multi-Mission Technical Integration Facility (AMTIF) and Central Technical Support Facility (CTSF). Apache first completed intra-Army Interoperability Certification in 2000; the latest Lot 9 Apaches went through the assessment this spring.

The certification at this facility is not only a node/weapon–system/platform certification, it's a System-of-Systems certification, Hutchinson said.

Those who test the Apache say the evaluation ensures the AH-64D is delivering on its networked promises.

"Apaches are better integrated with other Army C4I (command, control, communications, computers and intelligence) systems because of the testing" at Fort Hood, said David A. McClung, lead engineer and director at AMTIF/CTSF. "That ensures networked lethality and a common friendly and enemy operational picture."

What difference do these changes make for the soldiers who fly Apache? "It's simple. Apache gives better situational awareness and fratricide prevention, it's a force multiplier, and it enables networked operations," Hutchinson said.

"Networked information is the 'high ground' of today's and tomorrow's battlefield," said Mike Burke, director of Apache Business Development. "It's what gives commanders and their troops the ability to outplan, outmaneuver and defeat their enemy. Each year, through AIC, Apache shows it is giving commanders that high ground."

This summer Boeing and the Army signed the first production engineering contract for Block III AH-64D Apache Longbows. It paves the way for continued modernization of the world's most capable multirole combat helicopter, and ensures its formidable networked and interoperability prowess will only grow.

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