LONDON - More than a dozen new AH-64E Apaches - one of the most advanced attack helicopters anywhere in the world - are undergoing test flights with the British Army.

Wattisham Flying Station took delivery of 14 of the new aircraft in recent months, with 36 more due to arrive by summer 2024.

Test flights by the British Army are underway, with a boost to aerial capability anticipated early next year when the helicopters are expected to enter operational capability.

The helicopters have improved sensors and lethality, upgraded weapons systems and heightened communications compared to its predecessor, the MK1. Comparable to high-end super cars, the new Apaches also boast a top speed of 300kmh (186 mph).

They are able to detect 256 potential targets at once, prioritising the most urgent threats within seconds, up to a range of 16km (10 miles) away - a distance 57 times the length of HMS Queen Elizabeth or over twice the length of the Grand National course.

A 20-year agreement has been signed with Boeing Defence UK to maintain and support the new fleet.

Defence Procurement Minister, Jeremy Quin said:

"There can be no doubt these impressive Apache helicopters will help the Army sustain its battle-winning capabilities in future operations. "In addition to its vital defence purpose, this cutting-edge technology will create and support hundreds of UK jobs."

With £287 million confirmed for the first period of the contract, in place until July 2025, the agreement will create more than 200 jobs in the UK, including 165 for the Army Aviation Centre at Middle Wallop in Hampshire and 45 at Wattisham Flying Station in Suffolk.

The British Army has been using the world-leading Apache capability since 2005, with the attack helicopters used in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.

The Deputy Chief of the General Staff, Lieutenant General Sir Chris Tickell KBE said:

"I am delighted at the introduction of the AH-64E into British Army service, signifying our commitment to investing in the right equipment for our people to compete and win against the threats facing the UK.

"Within Future Soldier, we committed to winning the deep battle so that the close battle is as anti-climactic as possible, thereby reducing the risk to our people. The AH-64E is a truly world-beating capability that will, alongside other capabilities we are introducing, ensure we succeed."

The Long-Term Training and Support Service (LTTSS) by Boeing will progressively take over from the initial support and conversion training provided by the US Government under Foreign Military Sale interim arrangements.

The new Boeing contract will cover aircraft design organisation services, maintenance, logistics support, plus pilot, maintainer and ground crew training. Boeing already has more than 40 employees working alongside the Army Air Corps providing training for the Mk1 Apache at the Attack Helicopter Training School at Middle Wallop.

DE&S Director Helicopters, Keith Bethell, said:

"Ensuring the new Apache AH-64E fleet is airworthy and ready to serve the British Army is essential, which is why we were delighted to negotiate a long-term training and support service with Boeing Defence UK as part of our Rotary Wing Enterprise involving the services, DE&S and industry.

"Not only will it keep the Apaches in the best possible condition for deployment, it will provide expert training for pilots and ground crew while creating long-term, sustainable jobs for industry."

The replacement of the MK1 with the AH-64E - built by Boeing and already in service with the US Army - was announced in 2016 as part of a $2.3 billion deal.

This programme reinforces the ambition laid out in the Defence Command Paper and recent Future Soldier announcement to transform the Army into a more agile, integrated, lethal, expeditionary force, showing the Army's investment in battle-winning technology.