The Apache is the big brother in the sky that grunts love to see, hear, and feel flying above them. Its racks of Hellfire missiles are designed to destroy heavy tanks and light bunkers with ease, its rockets can eviscerate enemy formations, and its chain gun is perfect for mopping up any "squirters."
But the vaunted Apache is getting a lethality upgrade that will allow it to more easily carry the anti-air Stinger missile, reports IHS Janes.
The Stinger missile was originally designed as a shoulder-fired surface-to-air missile. Operators aim the weapon, and it detects the infrared energy of the target. When the missile is fired, it homes in on that signature for the kill.
Soldiers fire the Stinger Missile on Sep. 6, 2016, during training at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, California. The air-to-air version of the missile will be easier to mount on Apache helicopters purchased after 2017. (Photo: U.S. Army Spc. Kyle Edwards)
Apaches currently cannot carry a dedicated air-to-air weapon unless the operators buy an upgrade kit. Even then, the missiles have to be mounted on the outer wingtips instead of on actual weapons pylons.
But missile maker Raytheon and Apache maker Boeing reached an agreement in May to incorporate the attachments for the air-to-air Stinger missile into all new Apaches starting in 2018, Jane's reports.
The new build will also move the mounting location for Stinger missiles from the outer wingtips to the dedicated weapons pylons.
The Apache helicopter is a deadly killer of ground targets that is becoming more capable against enemy air assets as well. (Photo: US Army Staff Sgt. Ryan Matson)
It will then be much easier for Apaches to engage enemy air assets, something that attack helicopters are surprisingly good at. During the military's Joint Countering Attack Helicopter exercises in 1978, helicopters with air-to-air weapons racked up a 5:1 kill ratio against jets.
Even if Boeing adds Stinger missile mounts to Apaches, that doesn't guarantee the Army will buy them. The service is still fighting a long battle about whether it will keep any Apaches in the National Guard due to shortfalls of the aircraft for active duty missions.
So, there's a very real chance that the Army would rather keep all of its Apaches supporting ground troops rather than re-tasking some to provide anti-air coverage — no matter how cool it would be to see an Apache shoot down an enemy jet.
Still, many of America's allies like using the Apache to protect their ground units from enemy aircraft. For those who can't afford many dedicated fighters, a more Stinger-capable Apache gives them the ability to quickly shift anti-air coverage during combat.