Lockheed Martin [LMT] yesterday said it recently delivered the first Modernized Day Sensor Assembly (M-DSA) Laser Range Finder Designator (LRFD) to the Army for the AH-64D/E Apache helicopter.

The modernized LRFD is Phase 1 of upgrades for the M-DSA program and will be fielded this year through 2016. The new LRFD will provide Apache crews advanced targeting capability in its Modernized Target Acquisition Designation Sight/Pilot Night Vision Sensor (M-TADS/PNVS) system.

The new laser was developed to mitigate obsolescence issues and reduce costs, giving Apache crews advanced targeting, said Lockheed Martin M-TADS/PNVS Program Director Matt Hoffman in a media briefing yesterday. The new laser range finder also improves performance, and adds an eye-safe wavelength, which will allow crews to train as they fight at home station.

The laser is a great technical improvement, said Army Apache Sensors Product Manager Lt. Col. Steve Van Riper. It moves from “the old flash-lamp technology to the new, more reliable diode-pump laser technology.”

The laser kit represents a “significant investment” by the Army, (Program Executive Office) PEO Aviation,” Van Riper said. The improvements in reliability and maintainability lift much of the burden on the maintainers who keep the system running and operational, while the aircrew will reap the benefits of performance improvements.

Van Riper said the program is a “template for how we need to do business.”

Lockheed Martin did internal research and development, and the Army capitalized on that investment, as it saw the need for further funding, he said. The technology moved forward and matured to a development activity, to qualification testing and now in production, meeting its milestones.

During Phase 2, all remaining elements of the day sensor–high definition color TV, laser pointer, an upgraded laser spot tracker and state-of-the-art inertial measurement unit will be delivered.

The M-DSA Phase 2 brings color to the cockpit display, improving situational awareness and communication with ground troops.

For example, if ground troops say look for the red truck, with Phase 2’s color TV, Apache crew can actually distinguish a red truck from other trucks, unlike the “greyish-blob” color they now resemble on the older sensor, which is like an old black and white TV.

Hoffman said: “With more than 685 modernized LRFD kits on contract, this milestone signifies Lockheed Martin’s ability to deliver on its commitment to supporting the soldier.”

“The U.S. Army looks forward to a lasting relationship with the Lockheed Martin and Selex team; we anticipate continued success as we quickly ramp-up to our planned production rate and begin fielding," Van Riper said.

Lockheed Martin has 685 kits on contract, which will be fielded to the entire Apache fleet of some 790 aircraft, Hoffman said. Lockheed Martin “fully plans” to get foreign military sales customers to support the program and become involved in Lot production, which reduces cost via increased quantities.

Van Riper said the fielding goal for the new kits is to “equip the (AH-)64E units first.”

Two units have the E model," Van Riper said, and will receive the new kits first. Then the Army will move through the fleet “as quickly as we can based on a battalion fielding plan." The new system will be fielded by battalion kit, so when there are enough to cover all the aircraft in a battalion, a fielding team will move out and do it as quickly as possible.

"We’re targeting our first unit equipped in June 2014," Van Riper said.