A revolutionary attack helicopter and battlefield game-changer, the AH-64 grew out of the U.S. Army’s 1972 ‘Advanced Attack Helicopter program.’ This identified the need for an attack helicopter that could outperform the AH-1 Cobra in terms of firepower, battlefield effectiveness, survivability, and range. The primary mission would be to counter a massed Soviet tank invasion in Europe if the Cold War turned hot. With the need for better close air support capability evident from combat experience in the Vietnam War, the Army specified that the AAH was to be armed with a 30mm cannon and 16 TOW anti-tank missiles compared with either a 7.62mm minigun, 20mm cannon and just 8 ATGM on the AH-1, and be able to survive 23mm AAA hits.
The Army selected the Hughes YAH-64A for its better damage-resistance and stability. The missile armament specification was changed to include 16 AGM-114 laser-guided Hellfire missiles. The first prototype was flown on 30 September 1975. The AH-64A entered U.S. Army service in April 1986.
In August 1990, development of the AH-64D was approved and it entered service in March 1997. The AN/APG-78 Longbow radar and sensor suite can detect and track up to 256 targets simultaneously out to a range of 50 km and engage up to 16 using “fire and forget” missiles. The system’s raised position above the rotor hub allows the gunship to do this while remaining in cover behind buildings, trees and masking terrain. If there are more targets than a single AH-64 D can handle, the Longbow’s systems allow it to stream targeting information to friendly air and ground units.
The AH-64D has extensive combat experience from 1991 in the Liberation of Kuwait to Iraq, Afghanistan, the Gulf, Syria and Libya. More than 2,400 AH-64s have been built and it remains in frontline service with many nations around the world.