Today’s AH-64 Apache attack helicopter is known the world over as the most proven and capable attack helicopter. And it isn’t just Americans who feel this way. Our allies all across the globe agree and use the Apache as well — the United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Greece, Saudi Arabia, India, Israel, Japan, Singapore, Korea, Indonesia, Kuwait, Qatar, and the Netherlands are all Apache customers.
The Pentagon has said that it wants to ride the Apache into the future for at least the next three to four decades. Given the Apache’s record of almost 5 million flight hours and more than 1.33 million combat hours – in addition to its success rate – the Pentagon’s trust in the Apache is well justified.
But every aircraft must be updated as new technologies become available so as to maintain our edge. Our adversaries are not standing still. They want to catch up and pass us. So as great an aircraft as the Apache is today, if we do not commit to an upgrade path, overtime, our advantage will begin to evaporate and erode. A continuous modernization plan is important to our future freedom and security. The good news is that modernization is far less expensive than developing an entirely new platform.
The Army doesn’t currently have a modernization plan and if they don’t quickly develop one, they will be endangering future warfighters and our nation’s ability to deter aggression from a host of credible adversaries. For example, if we desire to convince the Chinese communist regime that threatening the US is not in their best interests, we must be strong. The modernized and updated Apache will do that for decades to come.
China’s rumbling about Taiwan is not the only risk. China is working to close the gap and to weaken America. They have an unmistakable plan to slowly tighten the noose around the neck of any nation that stands in their way. China’s totalitarian leadership has been clear that they intend to confront and defeat the US and dominate the world. All we have to do is take them at their word as to what their intentions are.
The decisions we make today will have a real impact on what tomorrow will look like. If America is to remain the land of the free and the home of the brave, we need to provide our war fighters with the best tools — an updated and modernized Apache will be just such a tool for the next three to four decades.
For example, updated and advanced sensors would provide pilots with more real time information about their surroundings and the risks they face. An advanced crew station makes monitoring and accessing the information easier and when combined with advanced flight controls and weapons controls will reduce the workload on the crew so that they can focus on the most mission critical factors.
There are also Artificial Intelligence capabilities that would help the crew achieve their mission and return home safely. Expanding the weapons pylon bay will allow for a wider range and a larger payload of weapons — some of which protect the aircraft and some of which allow the aircraft to complete its mission.
Other technological improvements could include improved avionics and an upgraded fuselage which would benefit longevity and survivability of the aircraft. An upgraded turbine engine, transmission and drive system, will increase range, speed and payload — all of which will make the Apache even more capable.
Moreover, moving to a modular open systems approach (MOSA) will allow the Army to integrate new capabilities more quickly and more affordably. With this approach, new capabilities can be included or added to existing aircraft with little effort and in many cases in the field.
The good news for the taxpayer is that all of this can be done at a comparatively small cost. Given the difficult place that we are in because of all the spending of the past several years, we need to find bargains when it comes to defense. We cannot afford to balance the budget by making ourselves weak. Weakness is provocative. We must maintain our ability to defend ourselves and to deter aggressive totalitarians.
If you had to have a certain medicine to stay alive — let’s say insulin — you wouldn’t stop paying for insulin simply because your family is facing budget challenges. Some things are so important that you simply can’t ignore them. National security is one of those things for our nation’s short-term and long-term survivability and security.
The Army would be wise to make sustained investment in the Apache in order to have a modernized Apache ready to defeat ever increasing global threats by the end of this decade. The time to invest is now, not 10 years from now.
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George Landrith is the President and CEO of Frontiers of Freedom, a public policy think tank devoted to promoting a strong national defense, free markets, individual liberty and constitutionally limited government. This first appeared in RealClearDefense.