Australia grounds Tiger fleet after German helicopter crash in Mali

Australian Army soldiers from 1st Aviation Regiment prepare a Tiger Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter for flight at the Forward Arming and Refuelling Point in Robertson Barracks, Darwin.
A file image of a Tiger Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter at Robertson Barracks, Darwin. (Defence)

Defence has grounded the Australian Army’s Tiger armed reconnaissance helicopter fleet, following a fatal crash involving a German Tiger in Mali.

As of August 14, Defence decided to cease flying operations “until further information becomes available”, a spokesperson for Defence told Australian Aviation.

The brief statement from Defence did not give a reason for the grounding of the fleet of 22 attack helicopters, and the spokesperson did not mention the crash nor any advice from Airbus Helicopters.

The Australian reported on August 13 that Airbus had issued a bulletin stating it had declared an “unsafe condition” for all Tiger helicopters.

A spokesperson for Airbus Helicopters stated that it is obliged to keep Tiger operators informed, and emphasised that the cause of the crash is not known.

“The Tiger safety warning is a contractual process which is applied to inform the users about continued airworthiness-related topics,” the spokesperson told Australian Aviation.

“As manufacturer, [Airbus Helicopters] has the obligation to keep the users updated on any development related to an accident or incident. AH cannot currently exclude any root cause due to the early stage of the investigation and the information level made available to AH.

“The warning was issued shortly after the accident and has been updated last Thursday in relation to the accident investigator preliminary report; it is not based, however, on additional information or possible root causes of the accident.”

Reuters reported on August 9 that the German helicopter began to break up while in flight and lost its main rotor blades.

Comments

  1. Dan says

    Say goodbye to TIger. Time to flick this flop and invest in off the shelf battle proven hardware Apache or Zulus

  2. Mick181 says

    Surely the Army has had enough of these Lemons, time to start the replacement program whether it ends up being Apache’s or Vipers.

  3. Scott says

    Why do we keep making the mistake of going with the quote with the most Aussie build content in these major military procurement orders, defence is about the defence of the nation period, NOT primarily to provide jobs in some electorates. This airframe is a disaster, and the Apache should have been ordered in the first place, scrap them sell them to someone and order the Apache now!

  4. Philip says

    The cost-effectiveness of these Tigers has been a real concern and is compounded by the advice that Airbus Helicopters don’t know what caused the issue. It seems they can’t be trusted to perform under stress…

    It makes the Australian Military observers at the USAF OA-X trials that more intriguing…

  5. G4george says

    While they are at it they can also get rid of the MRH 90s, these helos are still no where near full operational capability, the army should make this clear to the bureaucrats who keep pushing this lemon and put in an order for Blackhawks that will be fully operational from the day they arrive from the US and assembled on the ground at 5th Aviation Regt.

  6. Mick181 says

    Phillip
    Why would the Army be looking at a light attack fixed wing Aircraft to replace the Tiger? The Tigers primary role is as a ISR platform not attack, any replacement will be a Helicopter. The OA-X could not operate of the Canberra’s for starters.

  7. Fabian says

    Let’s just ditch the tigers now not wait another decade. Can’t we just get the viper or Apache. Battle proven and easily delivered.

  8. John N says

    Despite all the issues that the Tiger fleet has faced, and despite what we might all think, the reality is that a replacement is not due until the mid 2020’s, even if the program was accelerated by a number of years and a budget could be found (without causing some other project being canned), Tiger is going to need to be operational until at least the early to mid 2020’s.

    Do we want a capability gap? I don’t think so, lets hope that the manufacturer can actually find the root cause of the loss of the German Tiger and get the international fleet back in the air as soon as possible.

    Cheers,

    John N

  9. Joe says

    The Tiger is operating in combat theaters since 2009 (French army in Afghanistan). It has of course not the same operational experience as the Apache due to different EIS dates (1986 vs 2003) but it is combat proven as well.

    Additionally there have been incidents and problems with the Tiger as well as for the Apache
    The Tiger recorded 5 accidents since EIS until today in 12 years of operation (see link below) 4 of them reportedly pilot errors in bad sight operation, The latest (and most tragic one with two fatalities) is not yet completely investigated..

    https://aviation-safety.net/wikibase/dblist.php?AcType=H64&sorteer=datekey&page=1

    Compared to that the Apache recorded 31 incidents in the first 12 years of operation. Of course the incidents are more due to the higher number of A/C. The rate of incidents per A/C built is almost leveled between the two systems, even though you may expect a higher maturity for the Apache after 31 years of operation.

    Last but not least there has also been an incident in Mali with an Apache 2 years ago. A dutch army H/C crashed during an exercise mission, due to a mechanical failure. (see link below).

    https://aviation-safety.net/wikibase/wiki.php?id=174621

    I don’t see a major safety advantage of the Apache over the Tiger. I couldn’t find reliable numbers for the Operating costs of the both systems but I do not expect a major difference either. But for sure a replacement of the fleet with all the training for mechanics, logistics and crews you need will not be the most cost efficient step at this stage!

  10. Raymond says

    Stu, a small defect in the blade (obviously still a concern) versus losing the main rotor blades and then breaking up mid-flight? Yes, the Apache is still better!

  11. Philip says

    Mick 181
    My intrigue is based on the ADF utilising UAW ScanEagles for ISTAR in Afghanistan. Perhaps the Tigers are not as useful beyond Australia as it seems, especially to ground based ADF troops in harm’s way….

    Is the ADF perhaps looking at an alternate way to support troop situations similar to what they have experienced during their recent expeditionary skirmishes?

    Perhaps they now leave the Tigers permanently in the shed, and consider an off-the-shelf Light Attack platform instead (like those in the OA-X trials) in tandem with the UAWs to broaden troop tactical options instead of relying on the Hornets, Rhinos (and the Lightning II in the future) as expensive bomb trucks for small targets? I believe that this is one of the key reasons that the US are considering Light Attack options (but only after any coalition achieves air superiority first).

  12. Flex says

    An Apache crashed in Mali in 2015 and the Dutch crew was killed in the accident. There was another deadly accident with an Israeli Apache earlier this month.

    Apache fans have very short memories, it seems.

  13. James says

    Quit it with the Apache talk. Take it from someone who has experience with both platforms… Apache is no more reliable or capable than the Tiger. The Americans simply address the Apache’s shortcomings with numbers. One just needs to look at the recent Talisman Sabre joint exercise where Apaches and Tigers operated side by side. The Tigers out performed the Apaches in many aspects and had outstanding mission success. Get your facts straight Apache fan boys.

  14. Kevin says

    How about Australia just diversify the idea of a single armed reconnaissance platform and buy a fleet of 206 Kiowa and a fleet of UH-1H iroquois? And assemble them in Canberra with our out of work foreign national politicians? Big Barnaby could be a project manager….

  15. Michael says

    James has his facts straight Raymond.
    Part of the issue is our “risk averse” defence force, along with other non-aircraft related issues. The Defence White Paper says more about our defence force than it does their aircraft
    Other countries have been using their Tigers successfully in combat, despite being less equipped than ours.
    You should try talking to crews that have flown both platforms Raymond, you’ll learn more than your PlayStation can ever teach you.

  16. 5_mile_sniper says

    Quote
    “Take it from someone who has experience with both platforms. Apache is no more reliable or capable than the Tiger.”

    I know only handful people in the ADF who have flown both Tiger and Apache. All of them have flown the Apache in combat.

    Not one of them has ever remotely said that Tiger more capable.

    Curious as to what your Apache ‘experience’ is?

  17. Random says

    Apache is a great aircraft, but Tiger critics are quick to dismiss, or not realise at all, that USA lost two Apaches just in December 2016; one of which was a main rotor separation. Each of these airframes have had their challenges during their development, lets not get too “judgie”…

  18. Raymond says

    Michael, before you make assumptions, I do not own or possess a PlayStation, nor any of its competitors.

    Many would not agree with your description of the ADF as ‘risk-averse’ when it comes to acquiring new capabilities and platforms. Not knocking the ADF’s acquisitions and the complexity often involved, especially with introducing brand new capability (such as Tiger ARH), however a number of projects that have experienced cost and schedule overruns (many very public) would attest to this.

  19. Robert BAYLISS says

    Why are we still (Australia) having a problem with these machines after finally declaring them “Operational” after 10 years only to have them grounded , Buy a proved airframe and scrap the existing fleet. Sounds very much like the purchase odiferous the second hand choppers for the RAN.

  20. Lightning Luke says

    I think with all this ‘to and fro’ apache vs tiger there is only one way (apart from a thumb wrestle) to settle this. We get defence to release the latest tiger cost of operation(from their question taken on notice during senate estimates), and compare it to the Boeing product. Then we have a race to 10000ft and back… the cheaper aircraft gets a 1 sec headstart per $1k cost of operation difference. My money is on the one thats allowed to fly 🙂

  21. Ernest Powell says

    USMC AH-1Z Zulu Viper, first flight 07 Dec 2000, zero incidents in 16+ years, 84% common with utility UH-1Y Yankee for possible NH-90 replacement, common main and tail rotors (identical part numbers), bearingless main and tail rotors with most components having 10,000 hr fatigue lives (or ‘on-condition’), looks like the way to go from here.

  22. Raymond says

    Paul, once again you need to look at the F-35 program since its 2011 rebase line and the cost of production lots today and going forward.

  23. Michael says

    Yes Raymond,, I would have to agree that some of our defence acquisitions appear to be not well thought out.
    In the case of the ARH, almost all of the issues were based around taking an off the shelf product, and modifying it at great cost. The “smoke and fumes” incidents blown out of all proportion, as C17s and Super Hornets have had many more occurrences, but not a whisper about that.

    As far as “risk averse”, I was referring to management of those at the coal face, spending more time being trained about diversity, gender equality and how to prepare their ration packs than they do flying or maintaining. That’s why a different choice of helicopter will make no difference to the Army with the exception of the smile on the face of the gamer bois.

  24. Per Gram says

    There have been two accidents with the Super Puma Series LII and H225 with loss of all onboard. Both accidents were caused by failure of the second planet gear in the MGB causing separation of the main rotor. Root cause is not determined. However, after having been grounded, they ar now permitted to fly by EASA and both the Norwegian and Birtish CAA`s. This is quite disturbing, and you should keep these accidents in mind when you discuss Airbus helicopters safety in general, including the Tiger.

  25. says

    Raymond , I have mate and it constantly gets rebasel lined all the time because of all it’s Robles and promises that we keep hearing about.

  26. Brent says

    Australia needs two Attack helicopter types for two different roles.

    Like it or loath it the Tiger is a formidable asset as demonstrated at the recent TS war games. Army’s training, tactics and multi faceted role with an ARH platform are second to none and this capability can not be lost. Unfortunately if the recent loss of the German Tiger is determined to have arising from a catastrophic failure of the rigid rotor head the fix may be a very long time coming and could result in a reduction in the capability of the type. Which could be the final nail in the Tiger’s coffin. Australia can not afford the resulting gap in capability this would leave so its time get the wheels in motion and talk to our closest ally the US about fast tracking acquisition of the Apache. The relatively small order that Army would require could be supplied quickly in an emergency situation and our current Tiger pilots could be trained in the US or UK as an interim measure.

    Navy’s two new LHD ships as well as enabling humanitarian/disaster relief, provide the capability of force projection that has been missing for decades. It enables the ADF to embark an expeditionary force similar to the US Marines. So why reinvent the wheel when the Marines have done the work for us. Buy Vipers and Venoms, both can provide CAS for an expeditionary force and the Venom’s multi role capabilities work equally well in humanitarian relief. Bell has already made an unsolicited proposal to supply these maritime proven helicopters. If a more capable attack platform is needed from time to time then Apachies could be embarked as required.

    In these troubled times the government can not afford to dither. It has already committed to upping defence spending to 2% of GDP. Act now and act decisively and buy off the shelf when possible. Delaying decisions not only results in a loss of capability in the short term it will cost the Australian tax payers a lot more in the future.