The AH-64 Apache is United States’ main attack helicopter, capable of performing its duties in any weather, day and night alike. It was designed by Hughes Helicopters to be the successor of the AH-1 Cobra, the first dedicated attack helicopter. Later, in 1984, it was claimed by McDonnell-Douglas which bought Hughes Helicopters, and continued developing it, eventually creating the AH-64D Apache Longbow. As of today, the AH-64 is manufactured by Boeing Integrated Defense Systems- the company formed after the merging of McDonnell-Douglas and Boeing in 1997.
In the 1960s, the U.S. Army depended on Lockheed’s AH-56 Cheyenne to perform its anti-armor roles and enlisted it as its main attack helicopter. Although the AH-56 had superior speed, range and firepower, its huge weight came in the expense of its agility (making it an easy target) and the ability to perform close air support (the technical problems and fatal crash its prototypes experienced did not help it either). Upon realizing that the Cheyenne will not serve it well, the U.S. Army sought a new aircraft to fill its anti-armor role (it had to be a helicopter because of the 1948 Key West Agreement) and made a Request For Proposals (RFP) for an Advanced Attack Helicopter (AAH) in 1972.
The chosen competitors for the program were Bell’s YAH-63 and Hughes’ YAH-64. Although they were both very good, Hughes’ YAH-64 won over Bell’s YAH-63 because it had a lead in survivability and an edge in the stability of its landing gear. Upon being selected, the YAH-64 entered the second phase of the program, which granted it a new type of anti-armor rocket-the Hellfire (given its name after its purpose: HELicopter FIRE-and-forget). The precise launch-and-forget laser guided Hellfire missiles offered better range and stronger explosions than the formerly used wire-guided TOW missiles. Considering the ability to carry up to 16 Hellfire missiles at a time, it was more than obvious that the Apache will become its most common platform.
The first time the Apache was used in combat, was during 1989, in Operation Just Cause, at the invasion of Panama. The Apache played a key role in several wars, and proved to work extremely well against tanks and other armored vehicles by successfully eliminating hundreds of them (mostly Iraqi) over the years. It also proved to have amazing survivability by showing that it can fly back to its base even after being damaged beyond repair!
Additionally, the Apache made another impressive achievement, during its service for the Israeli Air Force, by taking down an airplane. It happened in the year 2001, when an Israeli Apache was called to intercept a Lebanese aircraft which entered Israel's perimeter. The Apache never received any kill mark since the downed airplane was a civilian Cessna, however, it was the only airplane kill the Apache made so far, and the first airplane kill done by an Israeli Air Force helicopter.
In 2 years, 2 new variants of Apache were made (B and C), each brought new improvements; the AH-64B was fitted with a Global Positioning System (GPS), better navigation systems, and new radio transmitters, while the AH-64C included an improved radar, a more precise sensor suite, better weapon systems, and stronger engines. The AH-64B was upgraded once (to the AH-64B+), but after one year of consideration, its program was permanently canceled (in 1992), and replaced by the AH-64C. Moreover, due to the similarity between the AH-64C and the first version of the AH-64D, the C variant was also canceled, leaving the Apache with only A and D variants.
The AH-64D (Apache Longbow) is the latest and most sophisticated Apache variant. Unlike the AH-64A, the AH-64D uses the advanced T700-GE-701C engines, alongside with an improved digital communications systems, a millimeter-wave Fire Control Radar (FCR- a target acquisition system) and a Radar Frequency Interferometer (RFI), all of which increase its survivability, communications, and navigation capabilities. It also exploits a radio modem which integrates with the sensor suite to allow multiple AH-64Ds to share targeting data. Since its last improvement (block III) in 2006, it possessed the joint tactical radio system, enhanced engines and drive systems, communications via internet, capability to control UAVs, new composite rotor blade and a stronger landing gear.
Although the AH-64 is owned by 12 different air forces, only two of them use them operationally: The United States Air Force, and the Israeli Air Force (they mostly use the D variant-the Apache Longbow). The U.S. Air force flies its Apaches in Iraq and Afghanistan to resist terror organizations, and the Israeli Air Force uses them to fight terrorism in Gaza. After engaging terrorists for many years, the Apache became a key component against terror.