17 February 2017
10,000+ APR-39s Produced Since 1968
More than 10,000 AN/APR-39s have been produced over the past 50 years, but production slowed with planned new generations of integrated EW suites for helicopters – last century – including the US Army’s SIRFC and ATIRCM.
The deployment of AH-64A Apaches to Kosovo as early as 1999 showed that Apache pilots “had lost confidence” in the APR-39. The Apaches never went into battle, in large part due to the perceived inadequacy of the ECM suite. Again in 2001 in Afghanistan, Army pilots expressed little faith in the APR-39. The Army anxiously awaited the next generation of helicopter EW.
Moderate new APR-39 production recovered last decade, however, as it became apparent a replacement was not going to happen in the near-term. Full production also continued for FMS buys. About 3,000 systems were still in US Army service in early 2009, with close to the same number today.
New APR-39 production should continue for the US Army, Navy, and Marine Corps, and for international platforms, but upgrades will be the big market for the future, with the huge number of APR-39s in US and foreign inventories, and significantly upgraded systems finally entering production.
Three-Phase Upgrade Plans
As an interim measure, the Army awarded Phase 1 APR-39 upgrade development funding to Northrop Grumman in FY05, focusing on processor upgrades to address obsolescence/sustain- ment/diminishing manufacturing sources (DMS) issues associated with the fielded AN/APR-39A(V). A full rate Phase 1 production decision was awarded in 3QFY08 (production was originally planned for FY07), though actual numbers of Phase I upgrades produced are unclear. Funding apparently dropped off after FY09.
The joint US Navy/Army Phase 2 of the APR-39 upgrade/replacement has instead now developed an improved Digital RWR (now designated APR-39D(V)2) for modernized platforms “by capital- izing on emerging technologies to provide enhanced aircrew situational awareness”. In mid-2008, Army officials spoke of funding for the program beginning “in a couple of years”, and the FY10 budget release in May 2009 showed SDD beginning in FY13, preceded by low levels of “prototyp- ing” funding. The FY11 budget showed RDT&E funding beginning in FY11 and ramping up to $22 million annually by FY13.
Then, in mid-2010, Northrop Grumman received a 5-year, $457.1 million FFP contract for APR-39 upgrade kits and repair, integration, interim software support, and field support. By the FY15 budget in March 2014, however, Phase 2 was still not finished with Army Design Requirements Insertion (3QFY13-2QFY14). Finally, in the FY16 budget in February 2015, substantial procurement funding by both the Navy and Army was scheduled to begin in FY16, with initial APR-39D(V)2 deploy- ments to begin in FY17.
In February 2016, planned FY17 US Army funding of $50.4 million supported procurement of twelve (12) B-Kit integration assets for Rotary and Fixed Wing aircraft, as well as A-Kits, Non-recurring Engineering, and Government System Test and Evaluation. However, Phase 2 APR-39D(V)2 First Unit Equipped (FUE) was still not planned until 4QFY18….
According to the US Army in 2016, “Phase 2 adopts the on-going US Navy RWR Class I Correction of Deficiencies ECP, commonly referred to as the APR-39D(V)2 system, limiting service-unique design, test, and integration expenses. Full Army participation throughout the remaining development, testing, procurement, fielding, and sustainment of the APR-39D(V)2 Digital RWR will address the significant Army RF capability gap while avoiding additional costs associated with a single-Service solution. This multi-Service approach also fields an effective and suitable material solution sooner to support the re-balance of the National Defense Strategy to the RF threat-heavy Asia-Pacific Region.”
The APR-39D(V)2 is planned to significantly improve RF threat coverage, and automatic detection and identification of threat types, bearing, and lethality, compared to legacy APR-39s. Under Phase 2, the Army will develop future APR-39D(V)2 enhancements as hardware upgrades needed to keep the APR-39D(V)2 technically relevant and address emerging low probability intercept (LPI) and frequency agile threats.
An eventual APR-39 Phase 3 is planned to add an active Electronic Countermeasures (ECM) jamming capability for selected aircraft, essentially intended as a replacement for the AN/ALQ-136 radar jammer. Phase 3 still has no definite planned start date – it is a future, proposed Army capability.
Teal Group Evaluation
Development has not been swift or consistent for any phase of planned APR-39 upgrades. RDT&E funding has jumped up and down, year to year. In the March 2014 budget, there was no funding scheduled for the APR-39 in PE# 0604270N after FY14, with funding likely shifted to another line.
By February 2015, Navy RDT&E funding lines had largely disappeared, despite the continued Navy lead in Phase 2 APR-39D(V)2 development. By February 2016, funding had again shifted to new RDT&E lines, including a new Army line, PE# 0605051A.
On the other hand, Army and Navy procurement funding lines have remained fairly consistent since 2014, still ramping up quickly to nearly $100 million in FY17. However, amounts have fluctuated somewhat year-to-year with each new budget (down this year), and actual procurement readiness – having a functional system to buy – has been delayed again and again (we could reasonably say, “since the 1990s…”).
But by early 2017, there finally seemed to be some (12) real B-kit systems in the production line, and though APR-39D(V)2 First Unit Equipped (FUE) is still not planned by the Army until 4QFY18, we are speculatively forecasting the beginning of consistent production and procurement funding.
Once an adequate, upgraded APR-39 does reach production, especially if it is “enhanceable” continually as planned, the APR-39 program could grow to be much larger than currently funded. Realistically, upgrades are needed for thousands of systems, and if the current APR-39D(V)2 B-kit unit cost of about $1 million is any indication, fleet-wide upgrades could be worth billions of dollars over the next decade or two.
Our speculative funding forecast (Military Electronics Briefing) ramps up in the out-years to more than the currently planned combined US Army and Navy procurement funding total of less than $100 million per year through FY21 (other than FY20). Our forecast includes international production as well.