Britain's 66 Apache helicopter gunships could become redundant after America opts for an updated model
Britain's AH-64D helicopters face becoming redundant because the U.S. has decided to stop using itIt means technical support for the British fleet will be withdrawn in 2017
10:37 GMT, 5 December 2012
Britain's American-made Apache attack helicopters could be cut back or even scrapped outright because the U.S. is set to upgrade it's fleet.
The Army has used Apache gunships since 2001, seeing action in Afghanistan – where current pilots include Prince Harry and in Libya.
Despite the helicopters' successes on the frontline, defence sources suggested that the Army Air Corps fleet of 66 Apaches could eventually be cut to around 50 aircraft fit for operations.
Britain's AH-64D helicopters face becoming redundant because the U.S. has decided to stop using the model and adopt a newer variant, the AH-64E.
The British Army's fleet of Apache attack helicopters could be cut back or even scrapped outright, defence sources have admitted
That means essential technical support for the British Apache fleet will be withdrawn from 2017.
As a result, ministers must decide whether to upgrade some or all of the British helicopters to the new US standard, or to replace them outright.
Defence officials and Army officers are finalising their assessment of the technical options in an exercise entitled the Apache Capability Sustainment Programme, or AH CSP.
Officials are due to present ministers with a list of detailed options in the New Year, with final decisions expected in 2014.
Colonel Andrew Cash, the commander of the army's attack helicopter force, set out the options for the Capability Sustainment Programme in a recent public lecture.
'The AH CSP is designed to address the sustainment issue that this raises, and provide the required capability, training and support out to 2040,' Col Cash, the commanding officer of 16 Air Assault Brigade, said.
Prince Harry is shown the Apache flight-line by a member of his squadron at Camp Bastion in Afghanistan
Britain's American-made AH-64D helicopters face becoming redundant because the U.S. has decided to stop using the AH-64D model and adopt a newer variant, the AH-64E
'The technical options are being evaluated, and I expect a decision on the way ahead for assessment by early next year,' the commander told the Royal Aeronautical Society.
Listing the options for the programme, he said: 'Do nothing; do the minimum; technology insertion based on the current airframes; update to the US AH-64E standard, or this standard but with UK-specific equipment; or an entirely new replacement attack helicopter.'
Some analysts have suggested that the UK could decide to replace its U.S.-made Apaches with the European-made Tiger helicopter, which is currently used by the French and German armies.
Military sources told The Daily Telegraph that the Tiger would be strongly opposed by British commanders, who regard it is inferior to the Apache. That means the Ministry of Defence is likely to focus on an Apache upgrade programme.
However, modernising existing aircraft is often extremely costly, and insiders expect that the MoD will be unable to afford to upgrade all 66 Apaches.
The MoD has refused to say how many of the Apaches will be upgraded, leaving open the possibility that some of the fleet will be left unmodified and effectively redundant from 2017.
The MoD told the newspaper: 'There are no plans to remove the Apache capability, on the contrary we plan to update and upgrade the fleet. The number required after 2017 will be taken according to operational requirements.
'Decisions regarding the future structure of the Apache fleet will not have an impact on the current operations of the Apache fleet.'