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25 Mar 02. The British Army’s WAH-64D Apache, has been effectively grounded on fears it could be damaged by its own missiles, the Defence Ministry said on Monday.

The Army currently has nine of the £27m ($40m) attack helicopters and plans to buy 64 eventually, but says it must overcome glitches with their U.S.-built Hellfire missiles before they go into action.

“There is a problem with the Hellfire … and damage to the aircraft from motor debris upon firing,” a Ministry of Defence (MOD) spokeswoman said. “We’re looking at what needs to be done to resolve that issue.”

Although the United States has found a solution, as many as 12,000 missiles, or 60 percent of its own arsenal, still need fixing, according to defence journal Jane’s Missiles and Rockets.

“The UK Apache is a very different animal to the U.S. Apache and there is still a lot of work needed to bring the aircraft up to operational status,” Mark Holloran of AgustaWestland said.

He said the U.S. problems amounted to “very minor scarring on certain parts of the tail from a series of trials using old stock of missiles.”

The U.S. Army said it advised all users of the Apache helicopters, including the British Army, in October that extensive tests showed it was safe to resume firing Hellfire missiles from all stations aboard the helicopter.

“While ejected debris might cause damage to tail rotor blades—and that means minor damage—the damage will not cause any immediate flight safety concerns,” U.S. Army spokeswoman Nancy Ray said.

“It is not going to cause any kind of damage that would harm the crew or cause the aircraft to leave the battlefield,” she said, summarizing the message.

“The Apaches can do the job they’re out there to do, and they do it well,” she said.

Lockheed Martin (NYSE:LMT – news), which makes the Hellfire missile, declined to comment.

The British Army hopes to start training crews for the new helicopters in July, but they will not go operational for another two years, the MOD said.

In the meantime, much of the British Army’s missile training will be conducted on virtual-reality simulators. (Source: Reuters)

Comment: Debris ingestion problems are not uncommon in missile launches from attack helicopters. During trials of the Thales Starstreak missile in the USA on Apache, debris ingestion was a common problem which was resolved with the fitment of a baffle plate on the missile. Another way of solving the problem was to limit the acceleration of the missile on launch, allowing it to pick up speed away from the aircraft.

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