Firing a rifle at a Longbow Apache Attack helicopter in the hope of claiming a US$8 million scalp with a 50 cent bullet might not be a very good idea for too much longer - unless you like keeping company with a Hellfire missile.

The rapid evolution of military weaponry is a fascinating, if not frightening development to watch, particularly now that the battlefield is becoming increasingly networked.

One such advance due for deployment on the U.S. Army's Longbow Apache Attack helicopters within the next twelve months is a networked Ground Fire Acquisition System (GFAS). The AH-64 has long had passive infrared countermeasures, but the GFAS is an offensive targeting system. It uses infrared cameras to detect muzzle flashes from ground fire, routes the information through the Apache's Aircraft Gateway Processor and displays the location and distance of the shooters as an icon on the pilot's display screen.

Not only does this enable the aircrew to immediately move their Modernized Target Acquisition Designation Sight/Pilot Night Vision Sensors onto the target at the touch of a button for immediate prosecution, it also offers the same information to ground forces via the net-centric battlefield information system, giving everyone in the fight vastly improved situational awareness.

GFAS also fully integrates with all existing communications systems currently in use and can transmit the location of the fire threat to another aircraft, a tactical Operations Center as well as to ground forces.

Current acoustic sensor capability cannot pinpoint an enemy fire target zone better than an area about the size of ten football fields. GFAS can detect weapon fire detection in light and dark conditions across a 120 degree field of view within a five meter target zone, well before the sound of the enemy weapon reaches the on-board sensors.

The most remarkable aspect of the implementation is that the aircraft's software does not require any changes for the initial implementation, and pending successful user evaluation, GFAS' capabilities will be further expanded by integrating Blue Force Tracker display screens. The first Apache attack helicopters to deploy GFAS will be those of 1-101 Aviation based in Fort Campbell some twelve months from now, significantly reducing the vulnerability of the relatively slow, low-flying Boeing AH-64 Apache in combat.