JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- Pilots and flight crews from the 1st Battalion, 229th Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, 16th Combat Aviation Brigade, presented the Guardian, newest model Apache helicopter to the public Feb. 21 during a ceremony at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, describing improvements and detailing increased capabilities.

"It has new engines, new rotor blades, and the upgrade in power is significant," said Col. Robert Dickerson, 16th CAB commander. "We're looking at the fastest and most powerful aircraft in the Army fleet."

The 1-229 ARB is the first unit equipped with the AH-64-E Apache Guardian, which replaces the AH-64-D Apache "Longbow," with enhancements to speed, lift, instrumentation and safety.

The Longbow performed well, Dickerson said, but flight crews reported some limitations with the aircraft. In response, the Army put out a request to make the Apache bigger and stronger.

The new Guardian offers integration of manned and unmanned aircraft systems and technology that allows pilots to fly in overcast skies. This provides better capability to team with Black Hawks and Chinooks, who already have that capability, so that all three aircraft can deploy as a formation.

The 1-229 ARB received eight Guardians and will field 16 more in the coming months. The first two classes of flight training are currently being conducted in Mesa, Ariz. After that, flight training for the Guardian will move to JBLM.

Residents in the surrounding communities may see and hear an increase in training exercises using the Guardian, although battalion commander Lt. Col. Geoff Crawford said the new Apache will use the same flight patterns as its predecessor, Longbow.

"We're working with the surrounding communities to be very aware of their concerns, increased noise and increased air traffic," Crawford said. "We've also looked at trying to train in a way so we're not impeding the local population because frankly, our Soldiers live in the surrounding communities. If we don't have the support of the local communities, it's detrimental to our training."

Training has intensified recently, as 1-229 ARB conducted its first live-fire event with the Guardian at JBLM earlier this month, supported by the 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment. Most live-fire exercises take place at Yakima Training Center in central Washington, Crawford said.

In combat, the new Apache can take on many roles, working on its own or with Soldiers on the ground to provide escort, reconnaissance or security.

"It's adding several different dimensions to combat operations," Chief Warrant Officer 3 Rob Teague said. "With the instrument flight package that's been added, we can finally validate that we're an all-weather attack aircraft. This is a significant improvement to what we've had before."

Chief Warrant Officer 3 Richard Crabtree said the biggest difference in the new model is the improved rise system which makes the Guardian more powerful and more efficient.

"It just allows us to be more maneuverable," he said.