Unhappy Australia Joins Study of Tiger Attack Helicopter Upgrade

 - September 10, 2015, 1:03 PM
Australia has joined a European team looking at a possible upgrade for the Tiger attack and reconnaissance helicopter. (Photo: Australian Defence)

Australia has joined France, Germany and Spain in planning a mid-life upgrade (MLU) for the Tiger ARH (attack and reconnaissance helicopter) made by Airbus Helicopters. The MLU could save the Tiger helicopter in Australia, where the defense department has not been happy with its serviceability and support.

It has said that the army’s 22 Tigers could be replaced if their performance does not meet requirements by the time of its Combat Assurance Program in 2019. The MLU is planned to be available from that year, with the modified helicopters designated the Tiger Mk3.

Europe’s Organisation for Joint Armament Cooperation (French acronym OCCAR) signed a contract with Airbus Helicopters on behalf of France, Germany and Spain for an architecture study to define the Tiger Mk3, including its future configurations. The Australian Department of Defence is also a party to the deal. Airbus Helicopters will examine and select promising new features and improvements to the Tiger’s maintainability, survivability or operability, with a major focus on the helicopter’s life cycle cost. The MLU will benefit both from the lessons learned in several operational theaters and from the latest technologies. Tiger operators will be able to select from a menu of equipment, functions and performance for the future development of the helicopter.

Australia’s annual defense report showed that its Tigers had flown 3,000 hours in the 12-month period, well under the 6,000 hours sought. The Army further said the helicopter’s twin Turbomeca MTR 390s have the highest operating cost of any helicopter engine in its inventory. The service has two squadrons based at Darwin in the far north of Australia. It is concerned about the time it takes for components sent to Europe to be returned, as well as with many unreliabilities. A cabin filling with smoke has caused several forced landings. The first Tiger was delivered in 2004 and the last in 2011 but the type has still not achieved full operational capability. This has now been delayed again, from this year to next.

Australia has been heavily involved in the Iraq and Afghanistan military campaigns. But unlike France, Germany and Spain, it has not exposed its Tigers in a combat zone. The service selected the Tiger over the Boeing AH-64 Apache with a plan to carry out an extensive local assembly at a plant to be built at Brisbane Airport.

In recent statements, Airbus Helicopters has insisted that the Tiger “is easy to maintain, does not require heavy infrastructure and has a good level of availability.” The company told AIN that the Mk3 upgrade study for OCCAR would consider “an increased commonality across Tiger variants, including Austrlia, since it brings benefits of investment, optimization and logistics.”