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US to Upgrade Japan’s Attack Helicopter Fleet

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Asia Defense

US to Upgrade Japan’s Attack Helicopter Fleet

A U.S. defense company has been awarded a contract to improve the AH-64DJP Apache’s vision.

US to Upgrade Japan’s Attack Helicopter Fleet
Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Toshi Aoki

Japan’s fleet of 13 license-built AH-64DJP Apache attack helicopters will be retrofitted with new sensors to improve the vision of the Japan Ground Self Defense Force’s (JGSDF) deadliest helicopter gunship.

According to an April 26 press release, the U.S. defense firm Lockheed Martin has been awarded a contract to upgrade the so-called Modernized Target Acquisition Designation Sight/Pilot Night Vision Sensor (M‑TADS/PNVS) system of the AH-64DJP — the “eyes” of the helicopter that provides pilots with long-range, precision engagement, and pilotage capabilities for safe flight during day, night, and adverse weather missions.

“Under the M-TADS/PNVS contract, Lockheed Martin will deliver 14 laser designation kits through 2020 to upgrade Japan Ground Self Defense Force (JGSDF) M-TADS systems,” the statement reads. “The Modernized Day Sensor Assembly (M-DSA) upgrade improves laser reliability and the Apache’s ability to designate targets and establish accurate target range. The company’s Apache sustainment team will also provide PBL support under a separate three-year contract.”

According to a company representative, “Lockheed Martin’s M-DSA laser designator significantly enhances the capabilities of Japan’s Apache fleet. Modernizing the M-TADS system delivers improved weapon effectiveness to JGSDF aircrews and streamlined sustainment support to maintainers.” Japan is the first international customer to receive an M-DSA field upgrade.

The AH-64D is one of the world’s most advanced attack helicopters currently in service. Armed with laser-guided precision Hellfire missiles, Stinger air-to-air missiles, 70 millimeter rockets, and a 30 mm automatic cannon, the helicopter would primarily be deployed to destroy enemy tank forces in the event of conflict.

Japan selected Fuji Heavy Industries (FHI) in 2002 to license-build a local variant of the Boeing AH-64D attack helicopter. Japan initially intended to build up to 80 helicopters. Due to budget constraints, the number was later on reduced to 60 and in 2007 dropped to a mere 13 airframes. As of 2017, the JGSDF operates one squadron of ten AH-64DJPs with the remaining three helicopters assigned to training units.

Japan does not intend to procure additional AH-64Ds in the immediate future.

As I reported in December 2016, Japan’s fiscal year 2017 defense budget request called for the procurement of six additional F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters, four Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft (a hybrid between a conventional helicopter and turboprop plane), 11 AAV7 amphibious assault vehicles, and an additional Soryu-class diesel-electric attack submarine, among a host of other equipment.

Once funds for new military hardware have been allocated in the annual military budget it takes two to five years until it reaches the respective service –a slight improvement to earlier procurement cycles. Japan in part decided to cancel the additional AH-64Ds in 2007 because it would have taken around 20 years to complete the planned purchase of 60 helicopter gunships.