Airbus Helicopters Launches Tiger MkIII Update Program

 - March 2, 2022, 11:32 AM
France will get at least 42 upgraded Tiger MkIIIs. A similar upgrade was offered to Australia, but the Boeing AH-64E was selected instead. (Photo: Airbus)

Airbus Helicopters has received a contract from the Organisation for Joint Armament Cooperation (OCCAR) to begin development and production of the Tiger MkIII, a major upgrade for the French Direction Générale de l’Armement (DGA) and Spain’s Dirección General de Armamento y Material (DGAM), which are the main arms procurement agencies for the respective nations.

The contract—which also includes initial in-service support—covers the upgrade of 18 helicopters of Spain’s Fuerzas Aeromóviles del Ejército de Tierra (FAMET), which currently operates the Tiger HAD/HA.28 variant with BHELA I at Ciudad Real, and 42 French Tigers operated by the Aviation Légère de l’Armée de Terre (ALAT) that fly from Pau and Phalsbourg. France also has an option of upgrading a further 25 helicopters. The contract has been constructed to permit Germany to join at a later date should it choose to upgrade its Tiger fleet.

Airbus Helicopters will conduct the work at main facilities in all three countries: Marignane in France, Donauwörth in Germany, and Albacete in Spain. A Tiger MkIII prototype is slated to fly for the first time in 2025 with deliveries to begin to the DGA in 2029 and the first for the DGAM to be handed over in the following year. The Tiger MkIII contract follows a 2019 tri-lateral global support contract signed with OCCAR to boost availability rates across the French, German and Spanish armies.

“The Tiger MkIII program will provide a European answer to the need for a state-of-the-art attack helicopter for the decades to come. With this upgrade, the Tiger will remain an essential and modern asset to its armies and reinforce defense cooperation in Europe,” said Bruno Even, Airbus Helicopters CEO. “The Tiger MkIII will have no equivalent in the world for high-intensity operations and will further improve the connectivity, precision, and firepower capabilities of the current Tiger.”

The MkIII is a comprehensive upgrade of the Tiger’s systems, including the provision of new detection, recognition, and identification (DRI) systems, with Safran and Thales providing many of the new equipment. Safran is supplying the Strix NG sighting and inertial navigation systems, while Thales is providing its FlytX avionics suite integrated with the tactical battlefield data management system, a head-up display upgrade, TopOwl Digital Display helmet-mounted sight, dual-constellation (GPS and Galileo) global navigation satellite system (GNSS), and the new-generation Contact/Synaps communication system, including a Micro-TMA datalink for video-sharing in manned/unmanned teaming with UAVs. Spanish company Indra is providing an upgrade for the identification friend or foe (IFF) system.

There will be some differences between French and Spanish Tiger MkIIIs. Spain’s helicopters will feature a battle management system and self-protection defenses from Indra, while French Tigers will have a new Thales self-defense suite built around the CATS-150 system, and a battle management system from ATOS.

Weaponry for the French Tiger MkIIIs will include the MBDA Mistral 3 air-to-air missile, Thales laser-guided rockets, and the new-generation MBDA MAST-F (also known as MHL/MLP) precision-guided air-to-ground missile, for which a second Micro-TMA datalink will be provided for guidance. The development of MAST-F was formally announced in November 2020. Spanish Tigers will add 70mm guided rockets and a new air-to-ground missile.