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.”