HOW THE APACHE HELICOPTER WAS DEVELOPED (Senate - July 20, 1992) [Page: S9956]
Mr. DeCONCINI. Mr. President, the recent military conflict in the Persian Gulf demonstrated the superiority of America's military technology. Most of our weaponry, from the aging workhorse, the A-10 Warthog, to the still under development J-Stars surveillance aircraft and the Magic Lantern coastal mine hunter, performed superbly.
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As details came to light, however, one of the most successful performances of Desert Storm came from the Apache helicopter--built in my State of Arizona. When it fired the opening shots of the war and later performed roles for which it was not even primarily designed, most of the Apache's maintenance concerns were laid to rest as it flawlessly carried out its missions.
The Apache helicopter is produced at McDonnell Douglas Helicopter Co., in Mesa, AZ. A major employer in Arizona, the Mesa plant currently employs 3,500 workers and continued success in improving the capabilities of the Apache--through the development and integration of the Longbow all-weather radar system--is expected through the decade.
I urge my colleagues, as well as those who have questioned the viability of the Apache, to study an article from the May 1992 issue of Army magazine, which describes the evolution of the Apache and its eventual success as part of the American military arsenal. I ask that it be printed at this point in the Record.
The article follows:
From the Army Magazine, May 1992
[FROM THE ARMY MAGAZINE, MAY 1992]
The Birthing of the AH-64A
(BY BRIG. GEN. GRAIL L. BROOKSHIRE)
Most of our new major weapons systems were developed and tested in anticipation of employment against the Soviet Union and its allies in the now-defunct Warsaw Pact. Fortunately, we never had to use these weapons against the envisioned enemy. Operation Desert Storm, however, gives us an excellent opportunity to evaluate some of these systems in use against a force that was primarily equipped and trained by the Soviet Union, and which positioned its forces in defense, using some aspects of Soviet operational doctrine.
A major weapon system acquisition is one of the most important decisions a nation makes. Success or failure on some future battlefield may result directly from choices made today. Multibillions of dollars are often at stake. Our servicemen and women may live, or die needlessly, because of the characteristics of the systems we select.
Before reaching an acquisition decision, the armed forces conduct extensive testing. In the Army, this testing is organized into two major subdivisions: technical testing and user testing. Army Material Command (AMC) conducts technical testing at its various test ranges. This testing is engineer oriented and is done by engineers, technicians and soldier test personnel. User testing requires that the weapons system be operated by representative soldiers from operational troop units and is conducted by Operational Test and Experimentation Command (OPTEC), an agency directly under Department of the Army.
OPTEC has two subordinate commands. One of these, Test and Experimentation Command (TEXCOM), is responsible for planning and conducting operational tests using its testing agencies located primarily at Ft. Hood, Tex., and Ft. Hunter Liggett, Calif. These agencies try to simulate future battlefields and to measure a new weapon system's contribution to battle under realistic conditions. OPTEC's other subordinate command, Operational Evaluation Command (OEC), evaluates test results and prepares recommendations on system acquisition based on its evaluations.
User testing assesses the effectiveness and suitability of a tested system before a decision for its full-scale introduction into the force. User testing is designed to answer a list of issues and criteria upon which the user-independent evaluation is based. Issues are questions that must be answered before we can assess the overall operational effectiveness and suitability of the system. Criteria are the standards by which issues are evaluated.
Based on the answers to the issues, OPTEC will make a procurement recommendation to the Army Staff. The process does not really end with an Army Staff decision, however. If the Army decides to buy, Department of Defense (DoD) and then Congress have to be convinced. In a period characterized by a declining budget and a diminished threat, convincing takes hard facts.
In addition, politics will be a major factor in a procurement decision. I don't refer to politics as a criticism but as a statement of fact. Money and jobs are at stake in a system acquisition. Industrial managers and labor union leaders try to influence procurement decisions through their congressional delegations and their personal contacts. Individual members of Congress are anxious to deliver government contracts to their districts and states, increasing their personal importance to the voters who put them in office. In a representative form of government, major decisions are always political decisions.
In the early 1980s, the Army was modernizing its forces. Major systems being developed included the M1 tank, the M2/M3 armored fighting vehicle, the advanced attack helicopter, the utility transport aircraft system, the radar-directed gun air defense system, and the multilaunch rocket system.
The objective of user testing was the same in 1981 as it is today, but the testing organization was somewhat different. Operational Test and Evaluation Agency (OTEA), an agency that answered directly to the Army Staff, was responsible for operational testing. Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) conducted numerous tests with its two principal test agencies, Combat Developments Experimentation Command (CDEC) at Ft. Ord, Calif., and Ft. Hunter Liggett, and TRADOC Combined Arms Testing Activity (TCATA) at Ft. Hood.
It used its various test boards collocated with the branch schools for smaller, branch-specific tests. TRADOC also represented the ultimate user, the operational units, on those major tests that OTEA conducted directly.
In spring 1981, CDEC was preparing to test the Army's advanced attack helicopter (AAH), later designated as the AH-64A Apache.
The AH-64A was the most technologically complex weapons system CDEC had tested and was a very important system in the type of war the Army prepared to fight. It was designed to take hits from weapons in the 23-mm and 12.5-mm categories and below, and not only survive but stay in the fight. It features two separate flight control systems for redundancy, two engines and an infrared suppression system.
The most important component of the armament system is the Hellfire modular missile system (HMMS). The Hellfire missile homes in on the reflected laser energy from its target, reading triservice codes. Target illumination can come from the firing aircraft's own designator, a ground designator from an artillery or aviation spotter team, or the designator from another aircraft.
The missile can lock on either before launch or after the missile is in the air. A single helicopter can engage multiple targets simultaneously. Of particular significance is the firing aircraft's ability to launch in either a direct or an indirect fire mode. The crew can preprogram the trajectory of the missile for either a low- or high-altitude flight to the target.
For suppression, self-protection and engagement of lightly armored vehicles and personnel, the AH-64A also carries a 30-mm lightweight machine gun. The gun can be aimed through a completely new system, the integrated helmet and display sight system (IHADSS), which establishes crew member line of sight for 30-mm engagements. IHADSS tracks the movements of the pilot's head. Literally, he simply looks, then fires.
For area target engagement, the AH-64A can also fire the standard 2.75-inch folding fin aerial rockets with a combination of warheads. This is the same rocket that has been used for years on the Cobra attack helicopter.
The two subsystems that make the AH-64A a remarkable night fighter are the target acquisition designation sight (TADS) and the pilot night-vision sensor (PNVS). The TADS is used by the gunner to engage with the Hellfire missile and, when necessary, to fly the aircraft. It contains a television system, forward-looking infrared system (FLIR), a combined laser range finder target designator, laser tracker, automatic target tracker and direct-view optics. TADS gives the gunner the capability to see and fire in daylight and darkness, through haze, smoke or fog.
The PNVS contains a FLIR that is independent of the TADS turret. It is used by the pilot to fly the aircraft at night and during other periods of poor visibility and to fire if necessary. It is slaved to the IHADSS and produces a field of view that matches the direction in which the pilot is looking. The PNVS gives the AH-64A an in-route flight capability that matches the operational characteristics of the aircraft.
Other advanced features of the AH-64A include the heads-up display system that allows the crew to read their flight instruments without looking down at the instrument panel, a Doppler and inertial navigation system, and secure communications. To assist in maintaining the system, it includes an on-board fault detection and location system to detect and isolate electrical and electronic failures.
From this abbreviated description of the innovative features of the AH-64A, it should be obvious that in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the system developers were working on the leading edge of technology. The task of the operational test agency was to determine if the system was ready for employment by the using units.
Operational Test II (OT II) was conducted by CDEC at Ft. Hunter Liggett during the ten-week period of 14 June through 28 August, 1981. Three prototype aircraft were used in the test. The primary test units were Company D, 7th Combat Aviation Battalion, 7th Infantry Division and a development test training detachment from Ft. Rucker, Ala. Opposing forces (OPFOR) were supplied by tactical units from CDEC and OPFOR simulation units from Ft. Bliss, Tex. The AH-1S Cobra helicopter was the baseline system against which the AAH would be compared. The test included both live fire against remote controlled medium tanks, force-on-force battles using lasers to simulate fire and target detection comparisons.
The purpose of OT II was to provide data to support an independent evaluation of the operational effectiveness and suitability of the AH-64A to the Army Systems Acquisition Review Council (ASARC) III. The ASARC was responsible for making the final recommendation to the Army Staff on initial production of the system. OTEA listed six test objectives:
Obtain data to assess the operational effectiveness of the AH-64A in an operational environment.
Partially assess the operational reliability, availability and maintainability (RAM), and supportability of the system.
Obtain data to assess the survivability of the aircraft in a combat environment.
Collect deployment information.
Collect information on the adequacy of proposed training for both operators and maintenance personnel.
Obtain data to determine correction of discrepancies discovered during previous testing.
While in theory OTEA could have issued a test report that recommended against procurement of the AH-64A, CDEC was well aware that this was not likely to happen. The Army had a serious need for an effective tank-killing helicopter to offset the Warsaw Pact's significant numerical advantage in armored vehicles. The Reagan Administration was willing to spend the money necessary to obtain those helicopters. The AH-64A was the result of a major investment of time and development money, and contained the characteristics the Army needed for its anti-tank helicopter. Barring a major disaster in the test, the AH-64A was going to be the selected aircraft.
In this particular case, the operational test agency's real mission was to find the problems with the system and help fix them. It was hoped that these fixes would allow the aircraft to produce the data that would convince Department of Defense and Congress to go ahead with the procurement.
The test began as scheduled. After 14 trails, the results produced by the AAH were disappointing. As is usually the case, the tactics and employment doctrine for the helicopter were as new as the system, and were being tested and developed along with the aircraft itself. The test director suspended the test for one day to allow the aviation experts to review and improve the tactical procedures that TRADOC had developed for the advanced attack helicopter. Performance improved immediately in the mock battles conducted after this review, and the data began to reflect the impressive contribution of an AAH to the combat power of the land forces.
Live-firing results with the Hellfire missile against the remote tank targets were encouraging for a new system undergoing operational testing. The crews obtained three hits out of six engagements at night, and four hits out of six engagements during daylight. Tests scheduled for the 30-mm machine gun were not conducted because of persistent problems with the weapon.
Problems also developed with boresight retention in the FLIR mode in the gunner's TADs. After the usual argument as to fault between the instrumentation or the actual FLIR, CDEC again suspended testing and conducted a series of stationary tests of the FLIR against a boresight panel.
Results of these tests proved conclusively that a design flaw existed in the FLIR. Hughes Aircraft Corp., the prime contractor for the AAH at that time, had its engineers on site at Ft. Hunter Liggett correct the problem, and testing resumed. This testing also revealed that on occasions, the TADS laser provided insufficient power to provide proper target illumination. To the best of my knowledge, this intermittent problem was not fixed at that time.
Aircraft availability was a persistent problem throughout the test. The aircraft we were using for the test were prototypes, not production models, and the maintenance crews were challenged to produce two of the three helicopters for tests on a daily basis. Frequent rescheduling was necessary. The actual RAM results reported were determined at a scoring conference held at intervals throughout the test.
As the commander of CDEC, I had no vote at the scoring conference but did attend several times as an observer. I felt that there was a definite attempt by the AMC project manager's office to portray the RAM results as better than they actually were.
The project manager system requires that the officers assigned to an office developing a major weapons system devote a significant portion of their professional lives to that system. It is not surprising that these officers often become advocates for the system when it goes into operational testing.
As a balance, TRADOC appointed system managers to represent the interests and requirements of units using the system in the future. In the case of the advanced attack helicopter, the TRADOC systems manager appeared to be under the domination of the AMC project manager and was not vigorous enough in representing the user's interests at the RAM scoring conferences. I reported my observations and concerns to TRADOC but continued to feel throughout the test that RAM data was being scored in an optimistic way.
The AAH test, although conducted by the Combat Development Experimentation Command, was actually an Operational Test and Evaluation Agency test, not a TRADOC test. Consequently, the final test report was written by OTEA from data provided by CDEC. When CDEC presented the data from the test to OTEA, it included its own observations. The most significant of these were:
The AH-1S Modernized Cobra, used as a baseline in the test, had an extremely limited capability to acquire and engage targets at night.
The AH-64A demonstrated an impressive night-fighting capability.
The air crews preferred to use the indirect fire mode.
Some problems were encountered in maintaining continuous intervisibility segments of sufficient length to acquire and engage moving targets at firing and before missile impact.
Air and ground crews were very favorably impressed with the AH-64A.
Tanks are lethal against helicopters when pilots showed poor tactical discipline by prolonged exposure.
I was impressed with the combat potential of the AH-64A and wrote a letter to the TRADOC commander discussing its employment. I suggest that the commander of a mixed fleet of AH-64A and AH-1S Cobra helicopters should not hazard the AH-64A with daylight engagement but should use them only at night.
Unfortunately, the TRADOC commander took my comments to mean that I felt the aircraft was either too expensive or too vulnerable to employ in daylight. The point I had hoped to make was that because of its impressive night-fighting capability, the most effective use of the AH-64A was at night, favored its use in daylight. Neither aircraft could be expected to operate 24 hours a day. Both required extensive maintenance services.
In December 1981, the General Accounting Office (GAO) recommended against the start of production of the AH-64A. Its concerns included:
A major redesign of the TADS after testing.
Addition of more powerful engines after the testing. System supportability, stating that the contractors were very closely tied in with the Army maintenance crews during the test. GAO also expressed doubts about the field use of the automatic test station to diagnose faulty system components.
Some tests of the Hellfire missile system had not been completed.
Cost was too high, and the Army should explore cost-effective alternatives such as an improved Cobra TOW or other types of weapons systems.
The Army decided that the AH-64A's combat potential outweighed the objections raised and was able to obtain approval for its production. Production aircraft began to reach operational units in 1984.
Criticism of the AH-64A did not end with its introduction as an operational aircraft, nor did its development. Criticism concentrated on the reliability, availability and maintainability of the system, and came from Congress, the GAO and the media.
A GAO report based on data gathered in 1989 and released in 1990 was particularly critical of Apache readiness rates and mean time between failures. The report found the Apache unreliable, difficult to maintain and seldom ready for combat. GAO clearly felt that many of the problems with the system stemmed from its premature fielding.
A congressional panel investigating the Apache in April 1990 termed the program a `disgrace.' Congressman John D. Dingell (D-Mich.) said that the Apache is `another vivid example of rushing a major and outrageously expensive new weapons system into production before the system has been adequately tested.'
News reports, exemplified by an 18 November, 1990, `60 Minutes' feature on the Apache was also critical of the aircraft's performance. CBS newsman Ed Bradley interviewed ex-servicemen, Congressman Dingell and a GAO employee, who discussed serious reliability and maintenance problems with the Apache, including among other components the rotor blades, tail rotors, communications and navigation equipment, and 30-mm machine gun. Senior military officers vigorously defended the Apache on camera, describing it as `the world's greatest attack helicopter today.'
In the face of this criticism, spokesmen for the Army and McDonnell Douglas Helicopter Company (which had acquired the Apache from Hughes Aircraft Corp.) maintained that the GAO report and other data describing Apache problems were based on 18-month to one-year-old data and did not take into account the effect of the joint Army/McDonnell Douglas Apache action team (AAT), later renamed the Apache readiness improvement program (ARIP).
The Army also stressed that the GAO report was prepared shortly after severe wind storms in Texas and South Carolina damaged 25.4 percent of the Apache fleet. Recovery from these natural disasters consumed long lead time production parts, which rapidly and dramatically reduced Apache readiness rates.
In fact, the Army and McDonnell Douglas continued to make improvements from the time the Apache was placed into production until its operational employment in Desert Storm. The AAT investigated 173 weak spots needing improvement in 1988. By October 1990, the Army stated that 106 of these had been fully corrected, and the remaining 67 had received an interim fix. By April 1991, the Army further stated that the AAT had closed 120 issues, and that only eight top-priority issues remained open. Three of these, main rotor blade debonding, main rotor strap pack reliability, and tail rotor swashplate reliability, had fixes that were proving effective in the field.
The attitude of the Apache supporters was rather well summed up by U.S. Senator Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.), a consistent booster of the aircraft, who said in a 7 February, 1991, statement: `When you talk to pilots who fly the Apache, they can tell you how satisfied they are by its performance. I would rather listen to them than a pencil-pushing GAO bureaucrat any day.'
The Army's and contractor's claims of improvement are born out by the steadily increasing availability rates, mission reliability rates, and hours between replacement of critical components for the Apache. While the figures from different published sources vary, it is apparent that in the Desert Shield and Desert Storm operations, all units consistently met the Army's requirement of 75 percent fully mission capable aircraft.
Most Army sources cite an average availability of 85 percent, with many units averaging over 90 percent. The GAO deployed a team to the Persian Gulf and confirms an availability rate of at least 80 percent.
The transition from Desert Shield to Desert Storm was the beginning of actual combat operations. In the early morning hours of 17 January, 1991, a force built around eight Apaches from the 1st Battalion, 101st Aviation Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) ended a move of some 500 nautical miles with a successful attack on two Iraqi radar installations. This action opened a hole in the Iraqi air defense, and hundreds of allied attack aircraft poured through to initiate the aerial phase of the operation.
The remainder of the aerial phase and the very brief ground phase of Desert Storm are filled with stories of success for the Apache against both maneuvering and dug-in targets of all descriptions. In the days before the ground assault, AH-64A helicopters conducted both reconnaissance and attack missions into the depths of the Iraqi defenses. Interrogation of Iraqi prisoners showed an important psychological effect of the AH-64A's night-flying capability. Many Iraqis believed that anything that blew up in the dark had fallen victim to the Apache.
After reviewing the results of Desert Shield and Desert Storm, critics of the Apache are in a position somewhat analogous to that of the college football coach who critiqued the running techniques of one of his defensive backs who intercepted an opponent's pass and ran it back 87 yards for a touchdown. After listening in silence as the coach pointed out that he had failed to stay behind his blockers, reversed his field too often and carried the ball too loosely throughout the run, the player ended the session with the simple question: `How was it for distance coach?'
The acknowledgment that the Apache's performance in Desert Storm was indeed a touchdown fully justifies the Army's decision to field the aircraft. As the results of the OT II predicted, the Apache is a formidable fighting machine. It wreaked havoc on the Iraqi forces at a loss of only two Apaches--one from enemy fire and one from an accident.
Perhaps the best evaluation of the Apache's overall performance is provided by the results of foreign sales to those countries in the region where the Gulf War was fought. To date, Egypt has ordered 24 Apaches; Israel, 18; and Saudi Arabia, 12. Additional sales are anticipated.
Some of the other strengths and weaknesses the Apache demonstrated in combat were also predicted by the OT II. As CDEC reported in its observations submitted with the test data, the AH-64A demonstrated an impressive night-fighting capability. Night after night we watched the aircraft move swiftly between and into firing positions in the natural ambient light conditions available in the remote reaches of Ft. Hunter Liggett. The crews quickly acquired and engaged targets with little chance of being discovered. There were no doubts in the test personnel's minds that an entirely new capability was about to arrive on the battlefield and that it had the potential to dramatically change the way we fight.
We conducted the OT II with prototype aircraft, which, while not giving an exact replication of the reliability, availability and maintainability of the production models, did make it obvious that the AH-64A would present a maintenance challenge. The complexity of the various subsystems indicated that training of technicians, repair parts stockage levels and the size of maintenance support units would have to be continually evaluated as the system matured.
The fact that the AAT investigated 173 points of weakness on the production system is a definite statement that the AH-64A needed much improvement after it went into production and indicates that indeed the RAM data from testing was treated optimistically.
Before Desert Storm, the Army had approved a wartime manpower increase in the size of Apache maintenance support units but had only actually implemented it in the European-based units. These force structure improvements, along with the intensified management and increased productivity of personnel that comes during a crisis, led directly to the excellent availability rates of the Apache during the deployment and fighting in the Gulf area.
It does not necessarily follow, however, that production should have been delayed until the system was more mature, or that it would have been less expensive had we done so. In the early 1980s, the threat posed by the Warsaw Pact was real. The OT II had shown that an AAH would go a long way toward redressing the armored force imbalance we were facing in Europe.
Even the less-reliable, early production models of the Apache were a welcome addition to the deployed forces. From a cost standpoint, given the persistent inflation during this period, production cost increased each year and may have led to a more costly fleet than the one actually fielded. In any case, the collapse of the Warsaw Pact and the Apache's success in the Gulf War are powerful arguments in favor of the Army's decision.
Most reports from Desert Storm rate Hellfire missile target hit performance at slightly above 60 percent, very close to the encouraging figures we found on live fire against remote-controlled moving tank targets at Ft. Hunter Liggett. Since some of the operational units in the Persian Gulf carried missiles on their launchers for extended periods of time (up to six months in some cases of earlier deploying units), seeker head sand erosion reduced the seeker's ability to acquire the laser spot.
In at least one operation, obscuration from insect impact may also have been a factor in reducing missile effectiveness. A deicer cover that protects the missile seeker head in flight and is discarded before launch reduced the problem in those cases where the covers were available. Missile effectiveness was also degraded by low power from the laser designator according to some crews' reports.
At least one unit reported that when crews selected the lock on before launch mode, laser backscatter from dust and sand blown up by rotor downwash could cause a miss. This problem was solved by using lock on after launch mode.
In OT II, while testing to determine the cause of the boresight retention problem, we did uncover indications of low laser power. We did not, however, carry the missiles long enough to find any indications of seeker head erosion problems. Although Ft. Hunter Liggett is dry and very dusty in the summer, we saw no indications of the laser backscatter problem in lock on before launch mode.
The 30-mm machine gun proved effective against unarmored and lightly armored equipment but still experienced reliability problems. Crews reported problems with jams caused by sand, wear in the ammunition feed system and a loader drive motor that appeared too weak for the job. Some units reduced the ammunition load for the 30-mm machine gun, both to improve performance and to reduce reload time. These problems had been identified before Desert Storm, but the Army had decided to replace the trouble-prone parts by attrition rather than all at once. In those units where the improved parts had been applied, the 30-mm machine gun performed well.
The fact that CDEC was not able to evaluate the 30-mm machine gun shows that at the time of the OT II, the gun system was not ready for production. Since the Apache was designed as an antitank helicopter, however, its 30-mm machine gun was much less important than the Hellfire missile it carried.
Development obviously continued after the production decision, and the 30-mm had been considerably improved before the Apache was deployed to the Gulf area. Despite these improvements, after-action reports and crew debriefs indicate that more work needs to be done on this system.
The Advanced Attack Helicopter Operational Test II provided Army and DoD decision makers with sufficient data upon which to base the AH-64A production decision. The test clearly showed that the AH-64A would add significant combat power to the Army component of the AirLand Battle team.
At the same time, the OT II identified problems that would reduce the systems effectiveness. Additional time in the testing phase would have undoubtedly resulted in correction of many of the aircraft's weaknesses before production. Additional time would also have delayed the Apache's entry into the force and possibly could have led to its cancellation.
The fact that this remarkable weapons system was available in Europe while the Warsaw Pact was still a real threat and was available to make a major contribution to the startling victory on the Desert Storm battlefield convinces me that the decision to produce the AH-64A was the correct one.
The project manager system has proven effective in developing material that ranges from simple to complex, and the Army will undoubtedly continue to use it. The potential does not exist, however, for those agencies responsible for developing a weapons system to adopt an advocate position for `their' system.
The realities of a shrinking defense budget means that future major systems procurements will be the subject of even more intense scrutiny by Congress and the Department of Defense than those made in the past. The data that supports a procurement decision must not be suspected of having been collected and presented in such a way as to stress a misleading picture of the system.
A key aspect of demonstrating an objective view of operational testing is keeping the testing agencies fully separated from and uninfluenced by the developing agencies. The recent creation of OPTEC, and the Army's decision to consolidate all operational testing agencies under its command, provides an organization that is in a position to perform an objective evaluation of the new weapons systems the Army will need to develop and field in an uncertain and increasingly complex future. We must ensure that OPTEC is given the freedom needed to perform its important tasks.
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