© Ian Harding | Army Air Corps | Westland Apache AH1
© Ian Harding | Army Air Corps | Westland Apache AH1

On March 25, 2024 following 23 years of service, the Army Air Corps officially retired the AgustaWestland/Boeing WAH-64D (Apache AH1) from service whilst also declaring the Boeing Apache AH-64E Guardian v6 operationally ready. As has become standard practice nowadays, the Army Air Corps and 4 Regiment, 656 Squadron based at Wattisham in Suffolk, marked this occasion with an extensive farewell tour and flypast. In a tour lasting some ten hours, two Apache AH1’s and two AH-64E’s, flew in formation over various United Kingdom locations relevant to Apache operations. AeroResource co-editor Ian Harding was present amongst the crowds at Army Aviation Centre Middle Wallop in Wiltshire for the occasion, AAC Middle Wallop being where Apache flight crews are trained. 

Having participated in recent exercises in Norway, the start of this historic day began somewhat ‘unconventionally’ with the two Apache AH1’s departing Vliegbasis Gilze Rijen, Netherlands before crossing the English Channel. Once in UK airspace they eventually joined up with two 656 Squadron Wattisham based AH-64E Guardians. The four-ship (call-sign ‘YETI’ 11-14 formation) then entered the London helicopter lanes before conducting their tour. In total 15 locations were visited comprising Permanent Joint Headquarters (Northwood), 3(UK) Divisional HQ Bulford, Tidworth Garrison, Joint Helicopter Command and Army HQ (Marlborough Lines), Army Aviation Centre Middle Wallop (fuel), Leonardo Helicopters (Yeovil), RNAS Yeovilton, RSEME Lyneham, MoD Abbey Wood, RAF Shawbury (fuel), National Memorial Arboretum (Staffordshire), Melville Barracks Colchester before returning to Wattisham in the early evening. Unfortunately time and distance did not allow the formation to visit  Dishforth Airfield in North Yorkshire which was formerly home to 9 Regiment (comprising 656, 657 and 664 Squadron); the first Regiment to receive the Apache AH1. 


The UK’s requirement for a new attack helicopter to replace the Westland Lynx AH7 commenced in the early 1990s but it was not until 1996 that the contract for 67 helicopters was signed. Of these, eight were built by Boeing with the remaining 59 built by Westland Helicopters, Yeovil (later Leonardo Helicopters) from kits supplied by Boeing at a total cost estimated at 4 billion sterling. It is well known that the UK’s procurement process required a number of UK specific requirements. These included more powerful Rolls-Royce Turbomeca RTM322 engines as opposed to the original General Electric T700-GE-701C engines, Helicopter Integrated Defensive Aids Suite (HIDAS) plus CRV7 rockets rather than the US Hydra 70 rockets (now used by the AH-64E). The helicopter was eventually designated by the UK Ministry of Defence as the Apache AH1 (US equivalent Boeing Apache AH-64D). The final aircraft was delivered to the British Army in July 2004 some six years after the first. The ‘AH’ as it became known was eventually declared ‘combat ready’ in October 2004. Since then, various upgrades were made to the Apache AH1 which  enhanced its operational capability. These included changes to enable the helicopter to operate from Royal Navy ships (including a folding-blade mechanism), carriage of new external fuel tanks with ballistic protection to extend range, and additional anti-icing protection to enable operations in Arctic conditions. Since 2019, Army Air Corps Apache AH1’s have regularly participated in Exercise Clockwork in Norway. Maritime certification was achieved in December 2005 aboard HMS Ocean. The most notable maritime operation conducted by the Apache AH1 took place in May 2011 from the deck of HMS Ocean during military intervention in Libya (Operation Ellamy).

9 Regiment based at Dishforth, Yorkshire were the first Regiment to receive the Apache AH1 in May 2005. One year later in 2006, the Apache was deployed to Afghanistan as part of 16 Air Assault Brigade and during the same year, Apache operations were consolidated at Wattisham into two Regiments (3 and 4 Regiment) each containing three squadrons. The effectiveness of the Apache AH1 in providing armed reconnaissance and Close Air Support following its combat introduction in Operation Herrick (which ended in December 2014) has never been in doubt. However, it is fair to say the hostile environment tested the aircraft enormously during these initial deployments from a maintenance and parts perspective, such was it’s use in these harsh conditions.

All Change

In order to survive and thrive, an organisation like Joint Helicopter Command (JHC) who are responsible for the United Kingdom’s core rotary tasks of lift, find and attack on the battlefield, must navigate strategic shifts and find new sources of competitive advantage. This has never been an easy task given the precarious state of the UK’s economic, financial and political situation which is made worse when one considers global factors. Staying ahead of potential opponents whilst navigating additional challenges which include being ‘seen to provide value for money’, avoiding fleet cliff edges and making the structural and technological advancement necessary to stay one-sep ahead is tough. 

Against this climate, recent years has seen an unprecedented period of capital change for JHC with rotary assets transitioning from the RAF to the Royal Navy (Merlin HC3/3A fleet) and stalwarts like the Sea king HC4, both Lynx variants (AH7/AH9A) and the Gazelle AH1 retiring. New variants like the Chinook HC6 (Extended Range aircraft to follow), Merlin HC4 and AW159 Wildcat have been introduced. The Apache fleet is no exception to this widespread change across JHC, with the purchase of the 50 AH-64E Guardian’s to upgrade the current fleet. Coupled with this the US Army switching to the Apache AH-64E Guardian, the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) initiated its Attack Helicopter Capability Sustainment Programme in 2015 with the aim of addressing legacy fleet obsolescence.

Apache AH-64E Guardian

In July 2016 at the Farnborough International Airshow, the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) announced it had secured a $2.3 billion deal (approximately 1.725 billion sterling at the time) to acquire 50 of these cutting-edge helicopters for the British Army. These new aircraft were to replace the UK’s current fleet of 67 Apache AH1’s (US AH-64D Block 1) which then had an Out of Service Date of 2023/24 which has subsequently been proven correct. Registered ZM700-ZM749, the first two remanufactured Apaches (ZM704/ZM705) were delivered back to the UK via RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire on November 24, 2020 eventually arriving at Wattisham Flying Station in Suffolk two days later on November 26, 2020. The latest delivery of two aircraft (ZM737/738) was via nearby RAF Mildenhall on November 15, 2024. The intention was for all 50 to be delivered by the end of 2024 and thus far as at April 1, 2024, 38 have been delivered.

Despite the Apache AH-64E being a new aircraft with new components and systems, the UK took the decision that several key components and systems within the legacy Apache AH1 fleet would be stripped out and incorporated into the new E model aircraft where possible.These included the Modernised Target Acquisition and Designation System (MTADS) and Longbow Fire Control Radar. Unlike in the legacy Apache, the UK’s new AH-64E’s are powered by two General Electric T700-701 turboshaft engines like their US counterparts. This helps benefit ‘fleet wide’ commonality. Flight crew workload has always been an important factor but a key feature of the Apache AH-64Es is its improved computing capacity and updated sensors which are intended to ease this burden whilst enhancing the connectivity of the aircraft on the battlefield. These systems support them in terms of identifying threats, targeting and finding solutions. The transmission and receipt of secure tactical data via Link-16 also enables flight crew to provide and receive information securely from unmanned aerial platforms for example and fast jets including the Lockheed Martin F-35 (UK Lightning Force is the F-35B). More system and component commonality means the UK’s new fleet will be receptive to upgrades which in turn will ensure it remains at the cutting edge of the operating envelope. This is considered crucial at a time when UK Defence is redefining the methods it applies when the fight is taken to those who threaten global security.  

3 Regiment, based at Wattisham Flying Station commenced its transition to the AH-64E back during 2022. Supporting this the AH flight crew training, including Conversion To Type, also transitioned at the Army Aviation Centre Middle Wallop within 7 Regiment, responsible for all Army Air Corps pilot flight training. Where to base aircraft has been debated for many years. Moving personnel and infrastructure is not cheap and always requires major upfront investment which during current times, is likely to prove especially prohibitive. Whether discussions regarding basing will impact upon the Apache fleet going forward is difficult to predict. Whilst being closer to Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire and operating with the rest of the British Army alongside its personnel, tanks and armoured vehicles feels right, what has developed over time is the Apache’s role which has changed from counterinsurgency type operations to one where it’s taking the fight to the enemy in deep battle. Consolidation of logistics is another consideration with this new platform but for now at least, no changes are likely.

As good as the legacy Apache AH1 has been, the Apache AH-64E clearly offers more.

You can find out more about the Army Air Corps new Apache AH-64E here: https://www.army.mod.uk/news-and-events/news/2022/01/new-apache-attack-helicopter-enters-service/

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