The ongoing conflict in Gaza has once again brought the Hamas militants face-to-face with the technologically advanced Israel Defense Forces (IDF). The IDF’s attack helicopter fleet, specifically the AH-64 Apache, is a key weapon in their arsenal. Interestingly, these helicopters have been modified by the IDF, with one notable alteration that changes the iconic shape of the Apache.
Photos taken during the current conflict show Israeli AH-64 Apache attack helicopters equipped with a prominent pod under their bellies. This pod, located behind the 30mm Chain Gun, houses an additional avionics package. It is a testament to how the IDF ensures that its combat helicopters remain effective, despite their age.
The existence of the under-fuselage avionics pod has been known for some time. It was added as part of an upgrade for the first-generation AH-64A model, known as the Peten, which was introduced in 1990. Israel also operates the second-generation AH-64D Saraf, equivalent to the Apache Longbow, which arrived in 2005.
The AH-64D model has several key differences, including a higher proportion of Israeli-made avionics, weapons, and self-protection features. It also features a Rafael voice communications and data suite, Elta 1891 satellite communications, and an Elbit HELICOM suite for real-time battlefield overview. Additionally, it has an Elisra Seraph self-protection suite with missile warning receivers, radar jammers, and countermeasures dispensers.
Due to the AH-64’s already packed avionics, fuel, ammunition, and crew, the decision was made to add the new electronics kit in an external housing. The smaller size of the AH-64A’s cheek fairings limited the capacity for internal avionics, necessitating the ventral pod solution.
The exact details of the avionics pod have not been revealed, but it was intended to bring the AH-64A closer to the capabilities of the advanced AH-64D. Fully upgrading AH-64A helicopters to AH-64D standard was a complex and expensive process, so the podded solution offered a more economical way to enhance their capabilities.
Having a larger fleet of attack helicopters is crucial for the IDF, as they have played a significant role in past campaigns. The Israeli Air Force currently operates a squadron each of AH-64A and AH-64D helicopters. These helicopters are based at Ramon Air Base and carry Israeli-made weapons, including the Spike NLOS missile, which offers capabilities beyond the U.S.-supplied Hellfire missile.
In addition to their offensive capabilities, the AH-64 fleet is equipped for counter-drone operations and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) missions. They are particularly useful for supporting ground troops and patrolling border areas.
Overall, despite their modifications and added weight, the upgraded AH-64 helicopters continue to play a crucial role in the Israeli Air Force’s attack helicopter fleet.