“Troubled” Tiger set for early retirement, new light helicopter for Special Forces on the way

An Australian Regular Army ARH Tiger Helicopter conducts Close Air Support during Exercise BLACK DAGGER in Townsville.The Defence White Paper and its accompanying Integrated Investment Program foreshadows significant new investments in Army Aviation, ranging from the early retirement and replacement of the Tiger Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter (ARH) to the acquisition of a new armed light helicopter for Special Forces support and additional Chinook heavy-lift helicopters.

The early retirement of the Tiger ARH follows on-going issues with the European-developed helicopter’s sustainment and serviceability rates and issues connecting its Eurogrid datalink to other ADF assets and networks that have limited its operational utility. Finally, the Tiger has yet to operate off the Navy’s new LHD amphibious assault ships.

“The Tiger has had a troubled history – essential upgrades are programmed to maintain the capability’s effectiveness,” the Integrated Investment Program document, which was released on Thursday, states.

“Defence will invest in a future armed reconnaissance capability to replace the Tiger, which could include manned or unmanned systems or a combination of both, to be introduced from the mid-2020s.”

The IIP further notes in what looks to be a reference to the issues with integrating Tiger’s Eurogrid datalink: “Armed reconnaissance helicopter operations will rely increasingly on intelligence and mission data and access to the common operating picture and other real-time data for effective integration with joint forces.”

The Army operates 22 Tigers, which entered service from December 2004, but the type has yet to achieve Final Operational Capability, a milestone that was originally planned for June 2009 and had been rescheduled to January 2016.

Instead, rather than persisting with a planned $1-2 billion mid-life upgrade project for the Tiger – listed under the old Defence Capability Plan as AIR 87 Phase 3 Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter Capability Assurance Program (ARH CAP) – the Tigers now look set to be retired early, albeit around 20 years after entering service.

A table in the Integrated Investment Program lists the ‘Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter Replacement’ as having a program timeframe of 2021-2030 at a total acquisition cost of $5-6 billion. (Importantly, the Integrated Investment Program lists “approximate investment values” for capabilities, which includes “enablers” such as base upgrades and infrastructure costs, rather than just acquisition budget costs for hardware alone.)

A new capability for Army Aviation listed in the Integrated Investment Program, meanwhile, are “deployable light helicopters”, which see “a new fleet of light reconnaissance and attack helicopters … acquired from around 2025 to provide air mobility support optimised for special operations missions.”

The Integrated Investment Program lists a program timeframe for the Special Forces helicopter as 2019-2028 with a budget range of $2-3 billion.

“The new helicopters will likely feature some light armament and modern intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and communications capabilities for integration with the joint force,” the Integrated Investment Program reads. “They will be able to be deployed rapidly as a small force element of three to four aircraft and personnel by the [C-17] Globemaster.”

That suggests a capability such as the US Army’s AH-6/MH-6 Little Bird series or the Airbus Helicopters H135M (which would also bring commonality benefits with the H135s currently being acquired for Defence helicopter pilot training).

At the other end of the rotorcraft scale the Integrated Investment Program confirmed the acquisition of three additional CH-47F Chinooks, a decision pre-empted by a US Defense Security Cooperation Agency announcement late last year.

What is news is the Integrated Investment Program’s foreshadowing of the acquisition of “new aero-medical evacuation equipment for the additional Chinook helicopters in the decade to FY 2025-26”.

Finally, the MRH 90 troop lift helicopter “will continue to be introduced into service, with Army operating 39 to 41 aircraft and Navy operating 6 to 8 aircraft,” the Integrated Investment Program notes.

“Current plans also include a requirement for role-specific upgrades to the MRH 90 troop lift helicopter to replace the S-70A Black Hawk in support of domestic counter-terrorism operations.”


  1. BG says


    Wonder how things would have turned out if we’d gone for a proven platform like the Apache?

  2. Jason says

    Not to mention the throwaway line of a requirement for a long range high speed CSAR requirement in the late 2020s as well…V-22 perhaps?

  3. Harry says

    48 Apaches Es (enough for two squadrons – 12 or 24 makes a squadron)
    48 Taipans (same reason as above)
    12/24 updated Black Hawks/Pave Hawks (for SF; same reason as above)
    12/24 I can’t think of whats best… armed the new version of armed Kiowas? Otherwise I default to Tim’s suggestion of EC145s (light tactical for SF; same reason as above)
    12 Chinooks (at least; same reason as above)
    12 EC145s (Training; same reason as above)

  4. Prime says

    Bell AH-1Z Viper to replace Tiger, it’s marinized so can serve on the LHD’s without rusting away. Along with interoperability with USMC who we are increasingly working with and we can plug into their development program (with Bell Helicopter and BAE Systems Australia signing an agreement recently to ready themselves for the sales pitch to the ADF).

  5. mick181 says

    It’s the only aircraft that fits the bill Jason. The projected cost of $3-4bn suggests that is what we may be looking at. It would probably give us a squadron of between 4-8, sounds a lot of money for so few aircraft but from what I’ve heard they are in the jet fighter range for costs to Raise,train & sustain.

  6. mick181 says

    The MH-6M little bird currently operated by the US Army for SF missions would have to be a strong candidate for the SF role. It can be fitted with Hellfire missiles, a 30mm chain gun, 2×12.7mm guns, 70mm rockets and MGs, Can carry a 4 man SF team and can be got through FMS with all the advantages that offers.

  7. Jackspeak says

    I see everone is putting their dream bids so I’ll put in mine;

    20 skateboards with green paint for SF
    17 mongoose mountain bikes with attack tassles
    3 green machine slider bikes with tape on rear wheels for extra sliding capability
    5 decks of cards for engine noise simulators.
    3 X 12 ft punts with nerf vuclan attachment for SAS/ Navy Clearance diver beach assaults.

    And enough NERF bullets to drop a preschool/choke a hungry hungry hippo.

  8. CM says

    Stop it Jackspeak,

    That’s so funny I’m wetting myself. Green machine and Hungry Hippos!!

    Such a cool wish list.

  9. Coolio says

    MRH-90 will never make it to being a Spec Ops platform due to all the inherent design issues written up everywhere else.

    Keep the MRH90’s we have (good Air mobile/ disaster relief) and then swap our SO squadron to MH-60M Black Hawks for SOF. Have the other Squadron there equipped with 135’s. The M’s have some commonality with our current training system and the Romeo model, and the 135’s have commonality with our future training platforms.

    As for the Tiger “replacement” (what ever it is won’t be replacing much anyway) can that not also be the 135 equipped with more ISR kit and some light armament? even further savings

  10. Steve says

    Looks like they are finally going back to the proposals from before the eurocopter disaster happened. The Zulu cobra and the November Huey were fairly high on the list. These frames have about 80% exchangeable parts between them and are already part of a long development schedule. The main thing that cut them out last time was that they don’t have wheels. The Mike model Black Hawk was also a favorite to replace the current Black Hawk fleet and the airframes we currently have could have been stripped and rebuilt as Mike models just like they did with the chinooks.

    Whatever they decide on will hopefully be thought through a lot better than last time……. But I definitely won’t be holding my breath.

  11. Bashar says

    I don’t get how come Australians have so many problems with they Tiger. Spanish had over 90% availability in Afghanistan and French had also very good servicebility when deployed abroad. The Tiger is easy to maintain, the French are doing it directly in the field.
    French also deploy they Tiger on a regular basis on their ships, without any problems, Tiger flew 220 hours in Lybia from their LHD. Maybe the Australian assembly is the problem.
    Concerning its effectiveness, both French and Spanish are very happy with it, and French are using it a lot in Africa and used it also extensively in Lybia, where 40% of the targets destroyed by the coalition were destroyed by helicopters and 90% of those strikes where conducted by Gazelle and Tiger Helicopters. I think even the Australians pilots are satisfied now.
    It makes me laugh when people talk about replacing it by Apache wich is a hell to maintain and way to heavy for Australia, I’ve read that they want to replace it with something actually smaller because the Tiger would be overkill.

  12. mick181 says

    From what i can gather the biggest complaint from the ADF has been a lack of support from the manufacturer and have not being able to get the flying hours in we need to achieve FOC. The manufacturer has been very busy supporting flying operations in a war zone and training for that war zone then perhaps we have been left out on a limb. The MRH-90 has also had its dramas. The CH-47F & MH-60R are great examples of a much better supported programs. We were also told these programs were fully matured, they were not.

    There is no reason to believe Australia cannot handle the AH-64E as long as we are properly supported and it would be a FMS program so that would happen and how is it to heavy for Australia. The Americans see Australia as an important regional ally. The Europeans see us as a customer. We should only go to Europe when we have to.

  13. Bashar says

    ََAirbus also said that they were working on a solution concerning support, like localizing a support antenna directly in Australia, it’s an issue that can be easilly resolved. It’s not a valid reason to stop a program that early. The Tiger and the MRH90 are still young, Airbus is working on it, problems will be solved, and the Tiger is already working fine in Europe. If there is so much drama about those programs, I wonder how you gonna cry when you’ll buy the F-35 …

    Concerning the Apache, it’s much more expensive to maintain than the Tiger, and it’s also less adapted to Australia. Australia doesn’t need an heavy helicopter loaded with 16 hellfire to stop tanks columns in the fulda gap, Australia needs a light helicopter with long legs.
    Also, the white book said that the replacement would be lighter than the Tiger, not heavier. It’s seems that’s more a no to the attack helicopters rather than to the Tiger itself.

  14. mick181 says

    I have found the timing of a Tiger replacement a bit strange. There is a huge amount of new technology promised for the early 30s so thought Australia may be waiting to see what emerges before deciding on a replacement. The ADF is obviously unhappy with the Tiger for reasons that have probably not been released into the public domain or have not been explained properly. You are probably right Bashar about the AH-64, it was not the right Helicopter in 2002 and has Army’s conops changed that much in 15 years? Yes the Apache was devoloped for defeating Soviet Tank Divisions, but has evolved over the years, could the E model be closer to what Australia wants, the Z model Viper has been devoloped for ops of Amphibs, It was a known req in 2002 and that did not get the Viper over the line. I suspect the Army’s need is for a land based Chopper that can go to sea when required not the other way round. New Tigers will not be in the frame. A-129s are ageing tech.

    It’s hard to say how the Army is thinking in relation to a Tiger replacement the only choices
    i can see in the time frame are the same 4 models from the original project. Tiger, Apache, Viper and the A-129. The yet to be ordered S-97 would do very nicely but won’t be ready in that time frame. A non MOTS solution is not in the frame, been burnt too many times.

  15. Harry says

    Nice assessment Mick… If Apaches still aren’t the right choice I would like to know what exactly the problem is with the Tiger is… if its a supply issue then maybe we should demand access to IP so as to make it ourselves? Or some other negotiated settlement… If its something else I believe the reason should be forthcoming. If, as has been reported, its a problem with the radio nets and Link 16, can’t these be easily fixed? I know these problems couldn’t in the sea sprite… but it would still be nice to know exactly what the issues are.

  16. Martin says

    I don’t have my copy of Jim Thorn’s “Off-Target” book handy at the moment, but my gut feeling is that it is due for revision if he is still up for it.

  17. mick181 says

    The Apache E will almost certainly be the final variant. The US will cess all devolopment work on the Apaches in the next few years and by the mid the mid 30s should be well along the road to FOC on a replacement based on either the S-97 or SB-1 technology. This would leave Australia with a young fleet of choppers we would have to develop further upgrades ourselves or replace early, same with the Viper Z.