IPSR – apache desert ops
It was originally designed to be an awesome and highly manoeuvrable weapons platform to combat the might of the Soviet Army as their tanks advanced across the Russian Steppes towards Western Europe. Today, long after the demise of the Cold War, the Apache helicopter has become a key tool in winning the war against terror.
Such are the geographical locations of the ‘Axis of Evil’ nations, that the ability to operate in desert environments is of paramount importance. To be able to deliver capability in such conditions, the armed forces must also train for warfare in a similar environment. The British currently have armed forces fulfilling operational commitments in Afghanistan and Iraq, and have recently conducted training exercises in Oman and Arizona. At present there are no indications to suggest that the current political situation is about to change to any large degree. Therefore, with the promise of desert operations for the foreseeable future, it is imperative that the operators and maintainers of all battle-winning equipment go to every practicable length to ensure that their equipment is fit for purpose.
It could be argued that a modern attack helicopter, with a multitude of high-speed, high-tech, rotating components, complex gadgetry and sensitive sights and weapon systems, all manufactured to close tolerances, presents a lot to consider. Add to that the ever-present consideration of ‘flight safety’, which places extra onus on the requirement for absolute reliability, then indeed maintaining Attack Helicopters in desert conditions has the potential to become a veritable minefield.
There is much inherent strength in the design and construction of such rotorcraft but the desert environment does take a lot out of them and as a consequence reliability suffers. The purpose of this project is to look specifically at the Apache, now that it has established itself on operations in Afghanistan, and consider what improvements can be made to increase serviceability, efficiency and availability.
The US Army gives assurances that the Apache contributed to the Desert Storm Victory by destroying approximately 500 Iraqi tanks1 and being available over 90% of the time. However, the story behind those numbers is very important in terms of understanding this piece of high-tech weaponry. The Apache demanded such a high level of logistic support that the US Army engaged in several management initiatives to keep the helicopters flying and repaired in the Gulf.
- Over 300 Apaches worldwide were essentially grounded in order to provide spare parts for 274 Apaches in the Gulf. Apaches outside of the Gulf flew an average of four minutes per day, only 10% of normal operations in order to save spare parts.
- Despite receiving massive logistical support, Apaches in the Gulf only flew at or below peacetime rates, even during the ground war reporting period.3 The peacetime rate is about 1/2 hour of flying per day, averaged over a month. This means that throughout the war Apaches only flew one fifth of the hours the US Army stated it would require for combat4. It is possible that combat objectives for the Apache were achieved during the 100 hour ground war, but even so it remains unclear how a longer conflict would have strained Apache supply and readiness.
So, there are clearly lessons to be learnt from the American experiences during Desert Storm, where the harsh desert environment stretched the supply line to its limits. The British fleet of 67 Apaches is already stretched before the demands of Desert operations take their toll. The British Army must therefore seek ways to minimise the effects of the environment on their helicopters if they are to fulfil their designed role on operations. The group will consider all aspects of the Apache aircraft and study the effects of the various characteristics of the desert environment on each aircraft system.
The prime purpose of the Apache is to act as a flying weapons platform; the remainder of the aircraft’s systems, although critical in their own right, are largely irrelevant if the delivery of the weapons payload is compromised because of environmental conditions. The author has consequently selected the weapons systems as his specific area of research and having gathered and digested all of the available evidence, he will be able to offer recommendations that may assist the Apache operators in enabling them to fulfil their role.
- To identify the damaging effects caused by sustained operations in a desert environment and to establish procedures to limit that damage.
Group members` backgrounds and project roles
The group has established a clear set of project objectives, which will encompass every aspect of the aircraft and the desert environment. The group goal is to produce realistic and deliverable outcomes. The project’s main objectives are:
- To identify which components are suffering from the effects of desert operations.
- To understand the mechanism of the effect.
- To develop measures to reduce the effect
- To produce a coherent set of procedures to be adopted pre-deployment and during operations.
Author’s Role and Enabling Objective
The author has 20 years experience of aircraft engineering within British Army aviation. His is currently employed as the manager of ground support elements at a first line aviation regiment. He has previously been involved with helicopter fleet management, delivery of technical training, and forward and depth maintenance.
The Author’s role within the group is to investigate how operating in a desert environment affects the efficacy of attack helicopter weapons systems, and to suggest procedural changes to ameliorate the effects and overcome tangible problems.
Runner Grewal’s Role and Enabling Objective
Runner Grewal has been employed at various British Army Aviation units around the world; as a shop floor technician and supervisor and at management levels. During this time he has been involved with several deployments to the Middle East and has first hand experience of desert operations.
Runner’s role within this project is to explore the way the Apache’s engines are affected by the harsh desert environment and to produce recommendations that would enable the effects to be minimised.
Chris Hueck’s Role and Enabling Objective
Although trained as a toolmaker Chris Hueck has spent the past 15 years in Army Aviation in various theatres of operation and on several Aircraft types. He has been employed as a shop floor technician and as an Artificer at both first line and depth maintenance levels.
Chris’ role in the group is to examine the effects a desert environment can have on the Main Rotor and Tail Rotor Hub and Blades on Apache attack helicopters, and to find engineering and procedural solutions to limit the damage.
Bob Beckwith’s Role and Enabling Objective
Bob Beckwith is employed as the leader of the On Site Support Team at the Lynx Business Unit. Although heavily involved with British Army Lynx helicopters, he has previously been involved with the delivery of Apache technical training. He initially trained as an avionics technician and through a long period of involvement with British Army Aviation he has accrued a broad depth of knowledge of rotary wing operations.
Bob’s role is to investigate the effects of the desert environment on the attack helicopter avionics and instrument systems and produce a series of recommendations to minimize these effects.
Daz Roderick’s Role and Enabling Objective.
Daz Roderick has been employed in running a maintenance section responsible for carrying out the inspection, modification and repair of Army helicopters.
His role is to investigate the effects of operating in a desert environment on the Attack Helicopter structure and to compile recommendations to ameliorate the effects
David Bower’s Role and Enabling Objective
David Bower has been employed in many aspects of Army aviation including delivery of technical training, as an Engineering Desk Officer in the Lynx Integrated Project Team (IPT) and more recently in forward and depth maintenance of Lynx and Apache helicopters.
David’s role in the group is to examine the effect of a desert environment on flight control systems in attack helicopters, providing an understanding of the damaging effect in order to propose mitigating procedures or modifications.
Andy Evan’s Role and Enabling Objective
Andy Evans has been employed in broad ranging aspects of helicopter engineering. He has recently been employed in an accident investigation capacity and this role involved investigation of any incidents resulting from a technical fault.
Andy’s role is to investigate the effects of the desert environment on the AH transmission system and to produce procedural recommendations to counter those effects.
Analysis of author`s task
The Apache weapons set-up consists of three major subsystems, namely the Area Weapons System, the Missile System and the Rocket System. These systems are linked to other aircraft and weapons related subsystems such as Longbow Fire Control Radar (FCR) and Target Acquisition and Designation System & Pilots Night Vision System (TADS/PNVS). In turn the FCR and TADS/PNVS interface with the pilot’s controls and display systems. For simplicity and by way of giving boundaries to the area of research, the author will be concentrating his research into the electronics and hydro-mechanical aspects of the three main sub systems.
The Area Weapons System (AWS)
The M139 AWS provides the aircraft with an accurate, quick response weapon for close, medium and long range suppressive fire on soft or medium type targets using a range of 30mm projectiles. The AWS consists of three subsystems
- The M230E1 Gun
- Turret Assembly
- Ammunition Handling System
Ancillary subsystems and components pertinent to the operation of the AWS include the System Processors, Controls and Displays subsystem, Utility Hydraulic subsystem, Embedded GPS Inertials (EGI) and Air Data subsystem.
This weapon is a crucial component in the Apache’s arsenal, and must function as required whilst operating in desert environments. The author will conduct research into the current effects of the operations on the AWS and all of its subsystems.
It is not anticipated that there will be problems with the gun subsystem, as this is a rugged well proven design that is used on various other platforms. It is probable that the only desert precaution required on this subsystem is the requirement for a more frequent and rigid cleaning regime, without the use of excessive lubricants. The author also suspects that there may be a probability that sand and dust may contaminate the barrel whilst the aircraft is parked; he will therefore consider the viability of introducing a muzzle cover to be used on the ground.
- The Turret Assembly subsystem is hydraulically driven and electrically controlled and provides support and positioning of the gun under all aircraft operating and weapon firing conditions. The hydraulic and electronic aspects should be reliable under desert conditions and therefore fairly trouble free. The one area of potential concern is sand and dust ingress into the gears and bearings within the Azimuth Drive Assembly. The author will investigate the occurrences of problems on this subsystem; it is suspected that a strict cleaning regime would be a sufficient and efficient preventative maintenance undertaking to overcome the majority of potential pitfalls.
- The Ammunition Handling System’s (AHS) primary function is to store, transport and transfer 30mm linkless ammunition for the AWS. The ammunition is stored in the Ammunition Storage Magazine, and is then transferred to the gun along the right hand side of the aircraft. This is deemed to be the most susceptible subsystem within the AWS to the effects of a desert environment. It has a various sub-components that may be particularly vulnerable to damage through sand and dust contamination.
The author will research into the extent of the problems experienced with the AHS and will seek solutions and recommendations accordingly. Initial research6 has revealed that the Sideloader Loadhead Assembly which is the electromechanical device that loads ammunition into the AHS is particularly susceptible. It is a complex and detailed unit that must be kept free from contamination, the author will determine the exact nature of the concerns and attempt to reach some conclusions and recommendations.
The Missile System
The Longbow Hellfire Modular Missile System (LBHMMS) provides the primary weapons system for the Apache. It provides combat crews the capability of multiple target engagement; indirect fire; day, night and adverse weather operation; extended range; short flight time; rapid or ripple firing, and fire and forget capability. The LBHMMS consists of three subsystems:
- Missile Launcher
- Environmental Protection Covers
The Apache can carry up to four M299 launchers, which are fitted to the stores pylons on either the inboard or outboard stations, dependent upon the aircraft’s role configuration. The author foresees there being causes for concern regarding certain aspects of the launcher assemblies, in particular:
- Overheating of the Launcher Electronic Assembly
- Sand contamination of the launcher rails
- Sand contamination of the Umbilical connectors and springs
The missiles themselves are not deemed to be an area of specific concern. They are stored in almost clinical conditions, and procedure dictates that they are only loaded when required. They should therefore be immune to the erosion and excessive heat exposure that may affect other components. However the author is conscious that no stone be left unturned, and will carry out research to confirm his suspicions.
The Environmental Protection
Covers are not a consideration, as they are the intrinsic anti-deterioration device for the missile system. They comprise frangible covers for the missile tips that are detonated immediately prior to missile launch. This adds further weight to the author’s confidence in the strong desert-resistant qualities of the missiles themselves.
The Rocket System
The Aerial Rocket Control System (ARCS) enables the rapid and effective delivery of up to seventy six 70mm rockets against light armour and soft targets. The ARCS consists of three subsystems:
- M261 Rocket Launcher
- Rockets and Warheads
- Controls and Displays
The M261 Rocket Launcher is the prime area for concern within the ARCS system. The launcher is of aluminium construction, which by its very nature is susceptible to sand erosion damage. The author has already been made aware of issues concerning this piece of equipment. The MoD have raised an urgent requirement for an evaluation of the effects of sand and dust on the lightweight rocket launchers7. The author intends to chase this particular lead and ascertain the exact nature and extent of the damage being caused, and how the solutions offered by TUV product service will enhance desert operations.
For similar reasons given for the Hellfire Missiles, the author foresees no areas of concern with regards to the Rockets and Warheads or the Controls and Display Subsystems. However, the launcher electrical connections may be susceptible to extreme heat damage, the author will therefore pursue that route of enquiry.
Author`s progress and achievements
Having changed his Enabling Objective from Avionics and Instruments to Weapons Systems, the author has quickly identified his personal areas of concern. Initial research and familiarisation with the Apache weapons systems has identified the most likely areas to be susceptible to the harsh environmental conditions, as detailed in Para 4. The next step is to confirm that the identified problem areas do indeed need addressing. There are plentiful sources of information available and at the time of writing the author is awaiting information from:
- Joint Helicopter Command
- Apache Helicopter Integrated Project Team
- 7 Air Asslt Bn REME
- 3 & 9 Regt Army Air Corps
- Work Recording and Asset Management (WRAM) database.
There is also a meeting planned at the Service and Repair Agency at Wattisham, where the weapons system components are repaired and overhauled. Here the author hopes to witness the depth of the damage being caused by desert operations and the level of repair necessary.
The internet has proven to be a worthwhile source of information; it is from here that the author retrieved statistical data from the US Apache Operations on Desert Storm. Mr Clodfelter of Inter Coastal Electronics has given the author information on the desert performance of the Collective Training System (helicopter ‘laser-quest’); however, the author is unlikely to pursue this lead as it is a training system only.
The author has been an active early contributor to the group as a whole and has been instrumental in establishing the Group Site on MSN, which has enabled the transfer of information with ease. He hosted and took the minutes for the first group meeting and was the inspiration behind establishing the Enabling Objectives that would provide deliverable outcomes for all group members. The author continues to search daily on the internet for useful information that may benefit the outcome of the whole project.
Group achievements and progress
The group has gelled early, and the quickly established EOs8 which have enabled individual group members to concentrate on specific areas of research. This was achieved by breaking down the aircraft into its main systems. There will certainly be areas that have the potential to overlap, for instance the author may well have included TADS/PNVS as part of the weapons system whilst it would also be correct for Bob Beckwith to have considered it as an avionics subsystems. Regular emails and the use of the Group MSN page has prevented confusion by encouraging regular and effective communication.
The group has held two meetings thus far, discounting the initial formation at Kingston, and fall-out from these has been essential in providing momentum for project progression. There has been strong teamwork evident at these meetings, with responsibility for chairing the meetings and writing the minutes being equally shared. It is essential that a full group meeting takes place during the first reading week at Kingston in November to enable the non-Wattisham based members to offer face to face input. A specific area to be addressed is the comparison of log books as there is evidence of some discrepancy in the layout and compilation.
At this early stage it is difficult for all individuals to be certain of their specific avenues of research. All group members have identified the areas that they suspect may be susceptible, and have made initial approaches to various agencies in the hope that they prove to be fruitful. There is certainly scope for some meaningful research and a definite requirement for improved performance in a desert environment. The team is focussed, professional and each member has a clearly defined objective.