FORT RUCKER, Ala. (September 25, 2014) -- Soldiers from the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence participated in the AH-64E Lot 4 Follow-on Test and Evaluation with the latest version of the world's premier attack helicopter Aug. 4-14 at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.

FOT&E participant CW5 Bill Ham, standardization pilot for the Attack division for TRADOC's Capability Manager for Reconnaissance and Attack at Fort Rucker, said the Lot 4 earned high marks.

"Having flown every model of the Apache, I was impressed with the capabilities of the Lot 1 AH-64E. But the Lot 4 capability improvements just demonstrated at FOT&E exceeded my expectations and marks the first significant change in how we fight the aircraft," Ham said.

The 1st Battalion, 25th Aviation Regiment, the Army's second unit equipped with AH-64Es, was selected to fly a combination of day and night missions over land and water in support of the follow-on test in Florida.

This test included attack, reconnaissance, movement to contact, and security missions using Link 16 and onboard sensors, which greatly increased the common operational picture between the Apaches and joint air assets.

Although the formal report for the evaluation is still in progress, initial feedback is that FOT&E was a success and displayed the value added from the Lot 4 insertions.

The AH-64E Lot 4 capability enhancements, scheduled for delivery in 2017, include external crashworthy fuel tanks and software upgrades. The bulk of the capability, though, comes with the integration of the Link 16 tactical data link.

Link 16, a secure joint, wireless network-in-the-sky, allows AH-64E crews to disseminate critical information in real time to other aircraft, as well as ground and maritime platforms.

All of these Lot 4 capabilities are in addition to the already fielded Lot 1-3 AH-64E models, which have improved digital connectivity, enhanced communication systems, more powerful engines, an upgraded transmission to accommodate the increase in power, capability to control unmanned aircraft systems, new composite main rotor blades and a fully instrumented-flight-rules-qualified aircraft.

The Echo model is already proving its worth, according to Col. Jeff White, the Army's director for USAACE TCM-RA.

"As good as the AH-64D is as the world's premier attack helicopter, the AH-64E has proven even better during home station training, FOT&E, as well deployed to Afghanistan providing increased capabilities for the supported maneuver unit," White said.

The 1-229th Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, the Army's first unit equipped with AH-64Es, deployed from Joint Base Lewis-McCord with their AH-64Es in March to Afghanistan.

To CW4 Richard Crabtree, the 1-229th ARB's production control officer, the E model means more safety and capability.

"The improved drive system of the AH-64E provides the pilot with an exceptional power margin between power required and power available, and is capable of carrying 2,500 pounds more than its predecessor, the AH-64D Model. This translates into a safety margin for the crew and increased combat capabilities for the ground force commander," he said.

"The E Model can take more fuel and ammo to the fight, get there faster, and stay there longer," Crabtree said.