A New Spin on Army Helicopter Technology

Currently, the U.S. Army’s fleet of helicopters, including Apaches and Chinooks, are equipped with five ultraviolet sensors to detect any incoming missiles. Upon detection, the helicopters are able to change their course to avoid the missile, or send out flares to divert the threat. This is known as the Common Missile Warning System, or CMWS for short.

However, the CMWS is in the very early stages of being upgraded. The new Generation 3 systems will not only be able to detect missile threats, but will also be able to detect threats from small arms for the first time.

The Army has already ordered 1,300 of these, which improve the processing power of the helicopters’ on-board computers, according to BAE’s director of threat management systems, Bill Staib. It is believed that this new technology will be able to provide details of a number of different small arms, including RPGs.

The plans are to extend this new system to the entire fleet of around 2,000; a tenth of this number has already been installed and used on helicopters currently in Afghanistan.

In Living Color

Apache HelicopterThis information comes just a month after more new technology for AH-64 Apache helicopters was revealed by the U.S. Army, in the way of full-color surveillance. Instead of the grainy, black and white images which are available to the pilots at the moment, they will soon be able to see in high-resolution color. The technology behind the blurry, monochrome images which they are used to using was developed 30 years ago, so an update was well overdue.

These changes are due to be rolled out as soon as possible, although it could take up to 7 years before the full fleet is equipped. They are designed to avoid situations such as that in 2007, where twelve people were killed in Baghdad after being mistaken for armed insurgents. Apache pilots such as Chief Warrant Officer Paul Steele welcome the improvements, saying that this marks ‘a great leap’ in the way pilots will be able to work.

Being able to see in color will make pilots’ lives easier, no matter whether it is night or day, good or bad weather. In addition, it will reduce the amount of time which is wasted on communication, as there will be much less doubt over exactly what they are seeing. They will be able to differentiate between targets wearing different colors, which so far has been impossible; there will also be a new laser onboard to aid communication with troops on the ground.

This new color technology has been four years in the making, and has cost around $60 million to develop. This might seem like an incredibly high price tag, but it will be the most advanced technology on any of the Army’s helicopters.

Lockheed Martin, the developers of this new system, say that it will be up to 3 times more reliable as the previous technology, as well as being easier to maintain.

By all accounts, it seems to be all systems go for everything rotary-related in the Army. New systems, techniques and technologies seem to be introduced regularly nowadays, although they come at a price. If they improve the working lives of the pilots and make everything more efficient, then it will be money well spent. Nothing is worthy of investment more than our troops and their equipment!

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