Thursday, October 29, 2015

Grounded: Taiwan’s US-Made Attack Helicopter Fleet is Rusting Away

Taiwan’s tropical climate may be too much for the AH-64E Apache gunship to handle.

The Republic of China Army is currently investigating the grounding of the majority of its AH-64E Apache “Guardian” attack helicopters purchased from the United States, Taipei Times reports.

The aircraft’s manufacturer Boeing has also dispatched a special task force to help identify the cause of the technical difficulties, which could be due to Taiwan’s “wet and high humidity climate, seasonal monsoon rains blowing salt-laden ocean water inland, or improper maintenance and handling by ground service crew,” according to the media report.

Major General Huang Kuo-ming, commander of the Army Aviation Special Forces Command, stated that nine helicopters had to be grounded due to serious oxidation on metal components, which was discovered in the helicopters’ tail rotor gearboxes- made of a new aluminum-magnesium alloy.

“We noticed rust corrosion developing in the tail rotor gearbox in March, and notified the US side of the problem at that time. They were quite concerned, and have advised our side to apply several remedial measures to counteract the corrosion,” Huang said at a news briefing this week.

However, the recommended anti-rust measures were unsuccessful and the Taiwanese military began a comprehensive safety check of every single helicopter in September. “The procedure is still ongoing,” said Huang, adding that the safety checks should be completed by the end of November.

Huang also stated that the current technical problems will neither  interrupt the training schedule of pilots, nor delay the induction date of the attack helicopters. “We will formally commission the Apaches into service on schedule in early 2017,” he emphasized.

In addition, to the nine helicopters grounded due to corrosion, twelve Apaches are also not operational due to missing spare parts, leaving only eight AH-64E Apache gunships operational. (One AH-64E was lost when it crashed into a three-story building during a training flight in bad weather conditions in April 2014.)

The AH-64 Apache is one of the world’s most advanced multi-role combat helicopters. According to a The Diplomat analysis from December 2013:

The Apache Guardian is armed with an M230 30mm chain gun, which can fire up to 625 high-explosive dual-purpose rounds per minute, and can be configured to carry AGM-114L “Hellfire” air-to-ground missiles (a total of 16 for anti-armor missions), AIM-9 “Sidewinder” air-to-air missiles, and Hydra 70 2.75-inch rockets.

Among the many advantages of the AH-64E are its improved composite main rotor blades, which are 15cm longer than those used on older models, as well as a new tip design and General Electric T700-GE-701D engines, all of which give the aircraft improved aerodynamic performance.

Boeing delivered a total of 30 attack helicopters to Taiwan between November 2013 and October 2014. Total acquisition costs were $2.53 billion, which, next to the helicopters, included 1,000 AGM-114L Hellfire missiles and 66 M299 Hellfire Longbow missile launchers. By Franz-Stefan Gady for The Diplomat

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