Clear Sight, Dark of Night

Apache M-TADS

U.S. Army PEO Aviation fields upgrades to AH-64E night ops target acquisition capability.

By Christian Sheehy

Seeking both flight safety and fire control, the Army’s Program Executive Office-Aviation is deploying an optical fire control system for the Apache AH-64E. Called the Modernized Target Acquisition Designation Sight/Pilot Night Vision Sensor (M-TADS/PNVS), a product of Lockheed Martin Corporation, the system provides a significant improvement in operational effectiveness, including flight safety via advanced Forward-looking Infrared (FLIR), optics for pilotage, and targeting sensors.

“Aircrews are able to navigate the battlefield safely and engage targets at extended ranges due to the modernized FLIR imagery,” said Matt Hoffman, M-TADS/PNVS programs director, Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control. “System performance is greater than two times the performance of the legacy TADS/PNVS system and greater than three times in terms of reliability.”

“The M-TADS/PNVS is an essential component of the AH- 64 weapon system,” said LTC Steve Van Riper, Project Manager, Apache Sensors, U.S Army PEO Aviation of Huntsville, AL. He added, “The M-DSA upgrade will provide greatly improved reliability, maintainability, and performance to our aircrews, enabling unmatched reconnaissance, target acquisition, and fire support to our ground forces; we expect digital high definition color imagery in the AH-64 cockpit to be a game changer.”

Clear View, Far Afield

The latest upgrade to the M-TADS/PNVS is the Modernized Day Sensor Assembly (M-DSA). M-DSA is currently in production for the upgraded laser range finder designator (phase 1 upgrade), which will be fielded by mid-2014. Phase 2 upgrades include development of the rest of the M-DSA components. “We recently marked the first flight of the phase 2 capabilities and complete[d] testing in June,” Van Riper said. “We are expecting the Engineering Change Proposal approval for phase 2 in the third quarter of 2014.”

“With M-DSA, Apache pilots can see high resolution images in near infrared and color versus the current low-resolution black and white images,” said Hoffman. “When a soldier on the ground identifies the blue car in front of the brown building, the pilot can immediately see what the ground soldier is describing, reducing the coordination time for critical decisions.”

Pilots can also more quickly and accurately identify targets at further ranges using an extended range picture-in-picture capability, which should help them stay out of harm’s way. In addition, a new laser pointer marker improves coordination with ground troops, and an updated multi-mode laser with eye-safe lasing capability supports flight in urban environments and home station laser training.

Reliable Power

To safely and dependably power the Army’s most powerful attack helicopter, the Evans Capacitor Company provides Hybrid Capacitors, or “Evanscaps,” for the M-TADS/PNVS and M-DSA systems. Evanscaps provide high energy density for power interruption back-up for avionics and subsystems. The low equivalent series resistance (ESR) and high power density also furnish high current pulse power for laser drivers or phased array radars.

“Evanscaps are used by virtually every Tier 1 defense contractor and aerospace company on platforms such as the Joint Strike Fighter, E2D, F-15, and B-787, as well as the Apache,” said Charles Dewey, CEO of the Evans Capacitor Company. “Evanscaps save space, weight, and power over other capacitor technologies and are available in a very wide range of ratings in voltages from 10V to 125V. They are not cycle limited and can provide very high current discharge.”

The newest design of Evanscaps, called the TDD series, has a totally new internal construction, enabling a 50 percent reduction in ESR, allowing higher currents for laser drivers and greatly reduced heat generation in phased array radar high current pulse duty cycles.

Sustainment and Beyond

M-TADS/PNVS was designed for two-level maintenance, with improved built-in test diagnostics. It has plug-in-play modules that can be easily replaced on the flight line. With less down time, the AH-64E’s advanced sensors—known for clarity and extended range—become even more potent.

“We are nearing completion of Lot 8 production, and we’re ready to deliver Lot 9 systems,” said Hoffman. “Since 2005, Lockheed Martin has delivered more than 1,200 M-TADS/PNVS systems and spares to the U.S. Army and international customers. In August 2013, Lockheed Martin celebrated the one millionth flight hour milestone for M-TADS/PNVS.”

Van Riper also noted, “The Apache Project Management Office has been challenging industry to keep pace with wartime requirements; collaborative improvements in software, aggressive performance-based logistics, and most recently, the M-DSA, demonstrate our commitment to AH-64 battlefield dominance.”

Top photo caption: An AH-64E Apache in flight (Army).