Four Army AH-64 Apache attack helicopters arrived on island Wednesday as a training precursor to 24 of the wasp-like choppers being permanently based here in coming months.
The arrival of the 16th Combat Aviation Brigade aircrews and airframes from Washington state marks the start of a six-month training partnership with Hawaii soldiers.
A total of 61 personnel with the 1st Battalion, 229th Aviation Regiment out of Joint Base Lewis-McChord are part of the training rotation, Chief Warrant Officer 3 Kennamer Yates, tactical operations officer with the 2nd Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment at Wheeler Army Airfield, said in a news release.
The “Killer Spades” will help to temporarily fill an attack/reconnaissance helicopter void left with the retirement of 25 aging OH-58 Kiowas last February at Wheeler, the Army said. The Apaches are the latest version, the Guardian “E” models.
“With 2-6 Cav’s retirement of the Kiowas, the Apaches will become a vital asset not only to 2-6 Cav, but also to the 25th Combat Aviation Brigade and 25th Infantry Division,” said Capt. Franklin Worsham, fire support officer for 2-6.
The Washington state team will be providing support to not only help train the Wheeler unit on the use of the Apache, but also to participate in multiple exercises across the Pacific, the Army said.
U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz’s office recently said 24 Apaches will be assigned to Wheeler in March and are expected to be delivered by mid-June.
The anticipated arrival in Hawaii of the AH-64D Longbow Apaches is part of a controversial Army cost-cutting plan to retire all of its OH-58 Kiowa Warriors and replace them with Apaches taken from National Guard units around the country. In turn, National Guard units would get Black Hawk utility helicopters.
The National Guard objected vociferously, and a commission looking at the issue has a Feb. 1 deadline to report back to Congress. A recently-passed government spending bill resolved part of the issue by allowing the transfer of 48 Apaches through June 30 — including Hawaii’s 24 — while giving Congress the ability to review proposed future helicopter shifts from the National Guard.
When Wheeler’s 25 OH-58 Kiowas were retired in February, most of the 2-6 Cavalry soldiers were sent to South Korea on a nine-month rotational tour, using helicopters already there.
The size of the squadron will increase from approximately 350 soldiers to more than 400 with the arrival of the 24 AH-64s and personnel needed for a platoon of Shadow unmanned aerial vehicles, officials said. The Army previously said the Apaches would be paired with 12 Shadows in Hawaii for a dual attack and scout role.
The Army said inter-unit cooperation is “imperative” in today’s military. With the service moving to a more rotational force — temporarily sending units to a variety of locations — the partnership between Hawaii and Washington state “is instrumental in developing the processes for integrating forces with many different policies and operating procedures,” Yates said.
With the Lewis-McChord aviation brigade the closest to Hawaii, “their role as a supplementary force would be vital to any military operation if one were to take place here in the Pacific area of responsibility,” Worsham said.