FORT RILEY, Kan. (WIBW) -- A whole new fleet of attack helicopters is headed to Fort Riley, making the installation the first in the Army to land the multi-million dollar upgrades.
"We’re going to be the first in the world to equip the Apache Block III Helicopter. The Apache Block III is the newest upgrade to the Apache model combat aircraft. We are the first in the Army to get it," said Lieutenant Colonel Ed Vedder, Commander of the 1st Attack Helicopter Battalion, 1st Aviation Regiment. The unit is part of the 1st Infantry Division's Combat Aviation Brigade.
"This new technology will bring a whole bunch of capability to the soldiers on the ground and that’s the whole reason we exist is to support those soldiers on the ground. What we’re going to bring to the fight is this new aircraft is exceedingly faster than the previous model which will allow us to get to the fight quicker and support those soldiers on the ground. The new technology in the cockpit is almost like a 747 flight page when you look at it. It is some very advanced equipment and we’re just thankful to have it," he explained.
The helicopters can carry more fuel and munitions, 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.
"We’re going to be able to have full control over unmanned aircraft, those UAVs that fly up in the sky. We can take control of that sensor, find the enemy on the ground, find where the soldiers are, be more informed when we show up on the battlefield and it’s a huge technological leap from the previous models," Lt.Col. Vedder told WIBW.
Vedder and the pilots in his command are training on the new Apaches at the Boeing plant in Mesa, Arizona.
"I was in the first class to train in Mesa and it was a blast. To fly this new technology, it was exciting. As soon as you picked up the aircraft, it felt like it wanted to go about a 150 knots which is about a 160 plus miles an hour and that’s pretty exciting to a pilot to have that kind of power at our disposal because when the time comes, the ability to get to the fight and help those soldiers on the ground- that’s what it’s all about," he added.
Because of their success in during the war in Iraq, the Pentagon is allowing Fort Riley’s Apache pilots to premiere the advanced air crafts.
"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 said.
When asked why the upgrades are necessary, he responded: "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."
Fort Riley will be receiving 24 of the new Apaches. The first batch is coming to the installation in the spring. The remaining air crafts will arrive between May and December 2012. Each of the attack helicopters has a price tag of $30-35 million
Their 11-year-old predecessors, the Apache Block II, will be given to the National Guard.