FORT RILEY, Kan. (WIBW) -- They are the newest, most advanced attack helicopters in the United States Army and Fort Riley is the only installation that has them- the Apache Block III's.
The first of 24 new Apaches landed at Marshall Airfield on Tuesday. They are replacing the Apache Block II's that Fort Riley has been using.
Members of the 1-1 Attack Reconnaissance Battalion flew the new Apaches in from California where they’ve been testing them out at the National Training Center.
The $36 million war-fighting tools are designed to get to battles faster in order to help troops in combat on the ground.
The helicopters can carry more fuel and ammunition, allowing them to stay in the fight longer. On top of that, they can also take control of drones that may already be flying near a battle which will allow pilots to activate sensors that will show them where American soldiers and enemy forces are located so that they are more prepared when they show up to the fight.
"Right now in Afghanistan, there are soldiers operating in very high altitudes, very far away from any Forward Operating Bases out there and now with this aircraft, we can fly higher altitudes, at faster speeds and when they need us, we can get there carrying more fuel and more ammunition to help them out of trouble or to take care of bad guys as the case may be," said Lieutenant Colonel Ed Vedder, Commander of the 1st Battalion, 1st Aviation Regiment, Attack Reconnaissance Battalion which is part of the 1st Infantry Division's Combat Aviation Brigade.
Because of their success in during the war in Iraq, the Pentagon is allowing Fort Riley’s Apache pilots to premiere the new helicopters.
"The decision for Fort Riley to receive the Apache Block III was an ongoing thing. The decision was made in the Pentagon back around 2008-2009 time frame. This battalion after a very successful rotation to Operation Iraqi Freedom during the surge from 2007 to almost 2009, we were deployed from 15-16 months. It was an exceptionally successful rotation for us. We shut down numerous IED networks in Northern Iraq. We were very successful in supporting the soldiers on the ground and we won a whole bunch of awards throughout the Army and it was pretty obvious to everyone that this unit should be the first one to receive it," Vedder told WIBW.
"The entire aviation brigade won a whole bunch of national awards and I think, at that time, the decision was pretty clear to everyone that Fort Riley needed to get this asset. We will be the most modern Combat Aviation Brigade in the entire world," he added.
When asked why the upgrades are necessary, Vedder told 13 News "This program has been deemed vital to national security on several checks throughout the Department of Defense. What is exceptional about this is the growth. We’ve grown these Apache Block II’s just about as far as they can go. They’re as heavy as they can get, the computers are saturated, they cant do anymore work. So what the new Apache Block III does is zero time lines the computer system and everything so they have full range of growth over a number of years. So with these, you can’t add anything else to them. What the Apache Block III will ensure is that we have a viable and lethal attack helicopter that can go out and support the soldiers on the ground for the next 20-25 years. It is a big leap in some technology that no one else has and that’ll keep us on the forefront when we do our job out there."
Five new Apaches landed at Fort Riley Tuesday. The remaining 19 helicopters will arrive in waves throughout the rest of the year.
Their 11-year-old predecessors, the Apache Block II's, will be given to the National Guard.