Last year, the U.S. Army’s Razorbacks were the first AH-64 Apache unit to participate in the Pentagon’s gigantic Rim of the Pacific exercise (RIMPAC) on and around the Hawaiian Islands. This included embarking aboard USS Peleliu (LHA-5) along with their USMC counterparts. The Razorbacks arrival also marked the first time an Apache had been to Hawaii.
First Battalion, 25th Aviation Regiment, 25th Combat Aviation Brigade out of Fort Carson, Colorado took part in the expansion the Army’s AH-64E Apache Guardian’s capability by integrating them into a joint-force maritime environment.
Chief Warrant Officer 3 Matthew Gottschling, a company instructor pilot, was quoted describing this relatively new (for U.S. Army Apaches at least) operating environment:
“With all the deck training, the reason it’s interesting and different is because the Apache is a land-based piece of equipment... By training us how to do the ship landings on a larger ship, it enables us to forward project our force by doing the cross training with the Navy and the Marines... It allows us to land on their ships, refuel, rearm and project power further forward as opposed to just being a land-based unit... It just gives us additional capabilities and additional experience. In the event of conflict, we would be able to deploy our aircraft via a ship to land and be able to operate in a maritime environment.”
Embarking Apaches aboard naval assets is nothing new. Britain’s WAH-64Ds have been operating aboard the HMS Ocean for many years and U.S. Army Apaches have also worked off the decks of the Navy’s sea base, the USS Ponce, in the Persian Gulf.
The Apache was actually designed with maritime use in mind, although the Army’s variant is not nearly as adapted to it as it could be. Various navalized proposals for sea-going Apaches have come and gone throughout the attack chopper’s development and operational history. Some are more radical than others, with relatively simple avionics, minor structural and corrosion resistance changes being made to the lightest concepts, and a whole new fuselage and the inclusion of the F/A-18’s radar in the most elaborate concepts.
The last time Boeing pushed for a navalized Apache was in their proposal to replace the USMC’s AH-1W Cobras, with a sea-going version of the AH-64D Apache Longbow. This ended up being passed over for the more familiar and less complex Bell AH-1Z Viper.
Integrating the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and Army into the maritime combat environment as a composite fighting force is the centerpiece of America’s pivot toward the Pacific and the evolving Air-Sea Battle concept that will supposedly support such a strategy during a time of conflict. If anything else, this increased ‘jointness’ among the services for expeditionary operations at sea will help overcome the massive reduction in the Pentagon’s fleet sizes over the last decade and a half and will help offset current cuts in end strength. It will also allow for increase flexibility and basing options during a conflict in the vastness of the Pacific, which is a very good thing.
Aside from the strategy and tactics debate, it sure looks like the Razorbacks had a good time during their adventure in paradise.
Contact the author at Tyler@jalopnik.com.