Airbus Group Australia Pacific chief executive Tony Fraser says the Tiger Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter (ARH) has a bright future amid improved reliability and serviceability rates.
The Australian Army’s fleet of 22 Tiger ARH helicopters was the subject of a critical audit published in September 2016, which highlighted the program’s lower than expected serviceability rates and growing obsolescence issues.
It also questioned whether upgrading the Tiger fleet provided value for money when the aircraft was slated for replacement in the middle of the next decade.
Fraser said much work has been done to support the Tiger program in recent times, which was paying dividends.
“We acknowledge we still have got work to do with Tiger,” Fraser told reporters during an Airbus media briefing at the Australian International Airshow at Avalon on Wednesday.
“We’ll continue to improve the supply chain and what we’ve done over the last two years through a dedicated taskforce was reduce the cost of ownership by 30 per cent.
“We acknowledge that’s an issue still and we really need to continue to drive that down.”
The Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) report found the helicopter suffered from lower than expected serviceability rates, faced growing obsolescence issues, and that the declaration of final operational capability (FOC) in April 2016 “was seven years later than planned, and was accompanied by nine operational caveats”.
Under current Defence planning, according to the ANAO, the Tiger is due to be upgraded under the LAND 9000 Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter Capability Assurance Program, which was stood up in 2014, and then be replaced from the mid-2020s under plans outlined in the new Defence White Paper’s Integrated Investment Program released in February 2016.
“Defence should conduct a thorough analysis of the value-for-money of investing further in the Tiger, pending the introduction of a replacement capability,” the ANAO report said.
Defence said at the time it accepted the ANAO recommendation.
Its activities include sales and support of Airbus Helicopters, the final assembly of 42 of the 46 MRH 90 Taipan helicopters currently being delivered to the Australian Army and Navy, and maintenance and support of a number of ADF platforms including the Tiger ARH, C-130J Hercules and AP-3C Orion.
Fraser said both the company and operators of Tiger were “very comfortable now” with a machine he described as an “exceptionally manoeuvrable and capable aircraft” with great reconnaissance capability.
“Talking to the commanding officer of the regiment, they now talk about the capability they have and the things that it can do
and they talk about it with pride,” Fraser said.
“I can put my hand on my heart as an ex-operator who carried responsibility for our troops that I am comfortable that this nation and Defence can carry that onto operations should the government require it to do so.
“I think Tiger has got a bright future. Europe is investing in the development of Tiger and the continuation of Tiger and we will leverage off that.”
Separately, Fraser said the operation of the MRH 90 Taipan was also improving.
“The availability we’ve had this week is the highest we’ve had in MRH 90. Just under 70 per cent,” Fraser said.
“We will continue to work on that. Obviously, that’s a high demand on a sophisticated machine still maturing and we will continue to reduce the maintenance burden on it through engineering mechanisms as well as the personnel to conduct the maintenance.”