the Army's most sophisticated attack helicopter - rolls off the assembly line in Mesa.
The chopper boasts an array of the latest armaments, has electronic guidance and weapons equipment that makes it usable at night and in bad weather. It's manufacturer, McDonnell Douglas Helicopter Co., says the high-magnification sighting equipment can read a car license plate from a distance of four miles - and hit a target the size of the front door on a house from that distance.Twenty of those $11.4 million Apache helicopters will be coming to the 211th Aviation Group in West Jordan soon. But before they do, experienced pilots and support personnel in the Utah Army National Guard will undergo intensive retraining to make them ready to fly the new aircraft.
It will take 10-16 weeks to train each experienced pilot in the new war machine. Mechanics and other support personnel will undergo comparable training.
And with the new addition to the Utah National Guard arsenal comes additional wartime responsibility - the kind that can put part-time soldiers in the battlefield ahead of their active duty counterparts.
Maj. Gen. John L. Matthews, adjutant general for Utah, said the conversion by Utah guardsmen from the Vietnam-era Cobra attack helicopters to the state-of-the-art Apaches is an example of the increasing responsibility the reserve components have for national defense.
The time has long passed when the Guard trained mostly on older equipment. Congressional bargain hunting, spurred by the call for budget austerity, has played a role in the shift of top-rated wartime missions away from active duty to the part-timers who rely on civilian careers, not federal wages, for their livelihood.
The shift also puts a greater strain on the guard member or reservist who has to juggle military duty with a civilian career. Employers also get involved in the sacrifice and have, at times, balked when an employee's time away from work exceeded the traditional two weeks of summer camp.
The increased reliance on reserve components is well on its way, Matthews said. Most airlifts to Central and South America are performed by reserve and National Guard units. Matthews believes the general public is largely unaware of the changes taking place with the military - or the accompanying wartime ramifications.
The Air National Guard provides all of the U.S. military air defense in the Panama Canal Zone, he said. Air Force reservists flew the tankers that refueled the F-111 fighters that bombed Libya. Pennsylvania Guardsmen flew the first transports to Grenada, and the first troops on the ground there were Army reservists. "Those people were in combat before anyone even knew how they would pay them," Matthews said.
The pending arrival of the Apaches also reflects a U.S. military philosophy about how it would fight a conventional war in Europe.
Matthews said the armor and artillery continue to be the mainstay of Soviet conventional forces. The U.S. would likely be in the minority in a battle on European soil.
"We always assume we would fight outnumbered," Matthews said. "To do that, we have to deal with the armor and the artillery."
U.S. military plans are to do battle with enemy tanks from the air. The Apache's design allows it to fly low, pop up over a ridge and rain terror on ground targets from a considerable distance.
Matthews said his background as an aviator flying fixed-wing aircraft made it difficult for him to trust helicopters. "I've always been leery of an aircraft that can back up," he said.
But after an introductory flight in an Apache, which can do 60 mph in reverse, Matthews said he finds the new machine more sophisticated than an F-16.
It's that sophistication that makes the Apache acquisition a particular challenge for the guardsmen who will fly it.
"This will involve two years of very intensive training, above what we call `normal' aviation training," said Col. Robert Mabey, commander of the 211th Aviation Group.