The Asia-Pacific region is a collection of diverse nations with unique terrain that present challenges for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions. Vast distances over land and water in an area with a growing population mean defense assets must be agile, responsive and versatile. For a region with wide-ranging needs, Boeing’s Vertical Lift capabilities, such as the AH-6 Little Bird, AH-64 Apache and H-47 Chinook, provide versatile tools for any scenario.
“The Asia-Pacific footprint includes more water than land, plus tens of thousands of islands, the vast majority of which do not have airfields with long runways,” said Randy Rotte, a former U.S. Army colonel and Boeing’s senior director for International Business Development for the Asia-Pacific region. “The ability to reliably reach remote areas quickly and engage in versatile defense and humanitarian missions are the hallmark of the Apache and Chinook.”
H-47 Chinook: The World’s Most Advanced Heavy-Lift Helicopter
With more than 60 years of combat and humanitarian experience, the Chinook is the most battle-tested, reliable and advanced heavy-lift helicopter in the world. As part of Boeing’s longest-running production program, 950 Chinooks are flying for 20 nations around the world, including more than 100 in the Asia-Pacific region. In fact, Japan and Korea operate two of the largest global fleets of H-47 Chinook helicopters in the world.
The Chinook is a proven multimission platform, performing all missions that include troop transport, search-and-rescue humanitarian and disaster relief, and special operations. India operates 15 H-47 Chinooks for their heavy lift requirements and has enlisted them to help in the fight against COVID-19-- just one example of the Chinook’s capabilities. With more than 6 million flight-hours, the Chinook brings unmatched survivability and the ability to perform the world’s most demanding missions.
With so many Chinooks flying around the world, the program has a distinct advantage over any competitor aircraft because of its large installed base supporting mission interoperability and the worldwide supply chain network. And this advantage will be built in for decades to come, as the U.S. Army intends to fly its 500 Chinooks through 2060 and beyond.
Mark Ballew is a former Chinook pilot and the current senior director of International Business Development, International Government and Defense at Boeing. He sees an aircraft that was advanced when it first started flying in the 1960s and has only gotten stronger.
“The Chinook has been the preeminent heavy-lift helicopter in the world for decades. And while its exterior may look the same as the legacy aircraft, today’s Chinook is significantly more powerful, versatile and agile than any other aircraft in its class,” said Ballew. “The enduring legacy of the Chinook is a true testament to the brilliance of the engineering and manufacturing teams that have kept it at the forefront of technology and performance for so long. There is an undeniable reason why 20 countries around the world operate the Chinook.”
That evolution is apparent in its versatility and customization. The Chinook can be customized to fit the user’s unique requirements, with capabilities such as air-to-air refueling, which has been in use on the Chinook for decades. Boeing has incorporated the latest technologies to deliver the world’s most modern digital avionics, flight controls and mission-centric capabilities. The CH-47F Block II, the next generation of Chinook aircraft, incorporates upgrades to increase lift and reach, improve commonality between U.S. Army and allied fleets, and reduce maintenance costs. The first CH-47F reached final assembly in March of 2023, and will be delivered to the U.S. Army in early 2024.
Even with its advanced capabilities and versatility, the Chinook is still the world’s most affordable heavy-lift helicopter. According to the U.S. Department of Defense, the Chinook has the lowest flight costs per hour in its class and significantly lower procurement and maintenance costs than any other aircraft that could carry similar loads, making it a very affordable life-cycle solution.
AH-64 Apache: The World’s Proven, Advanced Combat Helicopter
With more than 1,280 aircraft in service, the Apache is the primary attack helicopter for 18 countries around the globe, including key Asia-Pacific customers Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, Singapore and India. The U.S. Army fleet of Apaches has amassed more than 1.3 million combat hours and five million total flight hours in support of operations worldwide, including over-water operations and maneuvering from ship decks throughout the Pacific.
Australia recently became the 18th country to select the AH-64E Version 6, or v6, Apache as its attack helicopter, replacing its armed reconnaissance helicopter. The Apache will provide them with a low-risk, fully-integrated, battle-proven capability that is interoperable with Australia’s key allies.
While the Apache was originally designed as a heavy attack helicopter, operations over the last two decades have seen Apache upgraded to meet the reconnaissance demands of an attack reconnaissance helicopter. The v6 – through a combination of software and hardware updates – has further improved the Apache’s reconnaissance capabilities, making it an optimized scout and weapons system.
The Apache offers unparalleled interoperability, developing a joint common operating picture better than any other platform in the U.S. Army’s fleet. With Link 16 interoperability, the Apache becomes another key node on the network to help provide a joint common operating picture on the battlefield with other aircraft and sensors in the environment.
Additionally, the AH-64E’s sensors can focus on the particular target at much greater distance due to the Modernized Day Sensor Assembly (MDSA). With its color and near-infrared high-resolution imagery on cockpit displays, the crew can detect threats beyond 12.5 miles—20 kilometers—in range. Apaches are equipped with the critical manned-unmanned teaming (MUM-T) capability—providing two-way, high-bandwidth communication between the AH-64 and unmanned aerial systems. This combat-proven Apache capability increases survivability by allowing for early detection and identification of threats on the battlefield.
To keep the AH-64 relevant and dominating on future battlefields, Boeing is working on the Modernized Apache. This next-evolution attack helicopter builds on the mature, combat-proven AH-64E. With advanced crewstation and advanced flight controls – coupled with a Modular Open Systems Approach – the Modernized Apache will bring greater interoperability, reach and lethality. These enhancements on Modernized Apache will be supported by a more powerful AH-64 platform with the integration of the Improved Turbine Engine.
AH-6 Little Bird: The World’s Most Versatile, Advanced Light Attack / Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter
The AH-6 Little Bird is a highly capable light attack and armed reconnaissance helicopter specifically designed with superior performance characteristics and flexible, easily configurable mission equipment ideal for light attack, precision attack, anti-armor, close combat attacks, reconnaissance, security and escort, troop insertion/extraction, combat search and rescue.
The AH-6 can be configured to meet a variety of customer requirements to perform missions from simple to complex. This allows a customer to tailor the configuration to meet budget and warfighter needs. The Little Bird leverages industry-standard commercial technology to provide a cost-effective solution for customers, while reducing the logistical tail associated with high-performance military aircraft.
In 2022, Boeing was awarded a contract by the U.S. Department of Defense as part of a Foreign Military Sale for eight AH-6 light attack reconnaissance helicopters to Thailand. The Royal Thai Army became the second international customer for AH-6. Production for Thailand’s aircraft will begin in July 2023 with deliveries planned through 2024.
Boeing Vertical Lift: The Gold Standard Now and in the Future
Boeing already has established successful relationships with Asia-Pacific countries that have been flying Apache and Chinook for decades and will continue in the future. Combining modernization efforts already in the works on Chinook, Apache and Little Bird, Boeing’s Vertical Lift products will remain an integral part of the region’s safety and security measures.
“Our experience is that once countries experience Boeing Vertical Lift aircraft, they quickly become an indispensable part of their operations and happily continue to update them over the years,” Rotte said. “They fly them forever.”
Boeing also has a long track record of engaging local industrial participation for the company’s Vertical Lift maintenance, including Kawasaki Heavy Industries in Japan, Tata Advanced Systems Limited in India, and Korea Aerospace Industries and Korean Air in South Korea.
With the Asia-Pacific region’s unique topography, strategic importance to the global economy and geopolitical considerations, it is clear why Boeing has more Vertical Lift platforms there than anywhere else in the world.