(Corrects title of Army officer in fourth paragraph)
By Andrea Shalal
HUNTSVILLE, Alabama Feb 19 The U.S. Army has
unveiled new technology that will for the first time allow AH-64
Apache helicopter pilots to see targeting and surveillance data
in full, high-resolution color, instead of the fuzzy black and
white images they get now.
An Army official said new sensors developed by Lockheed
Martin Corp over the past four years could help avoid
mistakes such as the 2007 attack by two U.S. Apache helicopters
that killed 12 people in Baghdad, including two Reuters news
staff, after they were mistaken for armed insurgents.
U.S. Central Command has said an investigation of the
incident found that U.S. forces were not aware of the presence
of the news staffers and believed a camera held by one of the
men was a rocket-propelled grenade launcher.
"This additional situational awareness ... will give
soldiers what they need to make the right decisions on the
battlefield," Army Lieutenant Colonel Steven Van Riper, the
Army's product manager for the Apache sensors, told reporters
when asked if the new technology help avert such mistakes.
"That's our goal ... This will cut dramatically the amount
of voice communications and other things that take precious time
on the battlefield, time that could be used better to make
decisions," he said during a demonstration at Redstone Arsenal
in Huntsville, Alabama, where the Army tests new aircraft.
"Now they can focus on those tasks and not worry, 'Am I
looking at the right thing?'"
Van Riper said the new sensors would help pilots better
track suspicious cars identified by troops on the ground by
their color, or even individuals tagged in specific clothes.
"We'll be able to see the red car versus the blue car, or
the yellow building versus the green building, whereas before we
were totally reliant on being able to communicate either
verbally or through tactical text messages," he said.
Army officials showcased the new equipment during a flight
at the sprawling facility in Huntsville, showing reporters a
side-by-side comparison of the black-and-white video captured by
the current sensors on Boeing Co Apache helicopters, and
the new high-definition color equipment.
Van Riper said the Army was moving to implement the
technology as quickly as possible, but said it could take seven
years before all 680 Apache E-models are retrofitted with the
new color sensors and displays. He said the equipment would be
the most advanced on any rotorcraft used by the regular Army,
although some special forces had similar equipment.
The technology changes, developed at a cost of $60 million
over the past four years, grew out of an effort to remove
obsolescent parts from the overall sensor package, which was
first developed 30 years ago, Army officials said.
Apache pilots are enthusiastic about the changes.
Chief Warrant Office Paul Steele, an experimental test pilot
who has been flying Apache helicopters since 1991, told
reporters that the new equipment marked "a great leap" in a
pilot's ability to operate on the battlefield.
Van Riper said the Army hoped to award Lockheed a contract
to start building the sensor upgrade kits in fiscal year 2015,
which begins Oct. 1, after completing additional flight and
environmental testing in coming months.
He declined to estimate what the new equipment would cost,
saying the amount had yet to be negotiated with the company.
Matthew Hoffman, the Lockheed official in charge of the
Apache sensor upgrade programs, said the new system was nearly
three times more reliable and easier to maintain that the old
one. The new sensors also allows pilots to see near-infrared
imaging data together on one screen with the color imagery.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal-Esa; Editing by Nick Zieminski)