The Department of Defence has accepted an Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) report recommendation that it assesses whether upgrading the Tiger Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter (ARH) fleet provides value for money when the aircraft is slated for replacement mid next decade.
The latest ANAO report into the Tiger program, released on Thursday, found that the helicopter continues to suffer from lower than expected serviceability rates, that it faces growing obsolescence issues, and that the declaration of final operational capability (FOC) in April this year “was seven years later than planned, and was accompanied by nine operational caveats”.
One of two findings of the ANAO report was: “That Defence assesses, and advises government, on the value-for-money in investing further in the Tiger aircraft fleet for only a short period of improved performance, against other alternatives. This assessment should take into account the associated technical risks of upgrading an aircraft which has not fully delivered the level of capability originally expected by government.”
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 this year.
“The 2016 Defence White Paper allocated $500-750 million to address the current capability requirements of the Tiger platform with a view to replacing the platform mid next decade, at a cost of some $5-6 billion,” the report notes.
“In effect, an upgrade is scheduled for consideration less than 12 months after the Tiger achieved final operational capability. Defence should conduct a thorough analysis of the value-for-money of investing further in the Tiger, pending the introduction of a replacement capability.”
In response to the ANAO recommendation, which it accepted, Defence said it would “assess the best value for money and most effective capability for both the Tiger Capability Assurance Program and Tiger replacement. Recommendations on the timings for both programs will be considered at Gate Zero”.
A decision on the future fate of the Tiger could be made as soon as next January, with the ANAO report noting that Gate Zero approval (the first major approval milestone for a defence acquisition program) for the Tiger Capability Assurance Program upgrade is scheduled for early 2017.
Interestingly the ANAO report reveals a 2013 report by Defence’s Rapid Prototyping, Development and Evaluation (RPDE) organisation found that upgrading the Tiger was a “high-risk activity” and that replacement alternatives should be considered.
“Alternate platform options should be considered. One option is the [Apache], although it is acknowledged that there may be other cost competitive platforms,” the ANAO quotes the RPDE report as saying.
The ANAO report then notes that in 2013 the then Defence Materiel Organisation advised the then Minister of Defence that while “no in-depth analysis of the costs of acquiring the Apache had been undertaken since the initial tender process for AIR 87 Phase 2 in 2001; [and that] the figures identified in the 2013 [RPDE] report were ‘not considered reliable’; … that further analysis would be undertaken to develop options in the lead up to Gate Zero for the Tiger mid-life upgrade.”
Regardless of that analysis, a like-for-like replacement of the Tiger by another attack/reconnaissance helicopter like the AH-64E Apache or the Bell AH-1Z Viper may not be the end result of Defence’s deliberations, with the Integrated Investment Plan proposing that “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.”
Meanwhile the LAND 9000 Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter Capability Assurance Program looks to have replaced and been considerably reduced in scope from the earlier planned AIR 87 Phase 3 Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter Capability Assurance Program (ARH CAP), which had a planned $1-2 billion budget.
For further analysis on the Tiger ARH ANAO report, this post by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s Andrew Davies, focusing on program risk and sustainment costs, is well worth reading.