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ANAO report questions the value of upgrading the Tiger ARH

written by Gerard Frawley | September 2, 2016
An Australian Regular Army ARH Tiger Helicopter conducts Close Air Support during Exercise BLACK DAGGER in Townsville.
Tiger ARH – under the spotlight. (Defence)

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.”

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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.

ANAO_Report_2016-2017_11_figure-4-1
Defence’s proposed future Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter capability upgrade and replacement program key milestones. (ANAO)

“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”.

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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. 

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23 Comments

  • Dan

    says:

    Sadly it’s game, set and match. Adios Tiger, there can be no mid-life upgrade now!

  • Sean

    says:

    You say , game set and match , i say ten more years , why? because i know .

  • Harry

    says:

    Yup 10 more years… thats what the chart says

  • Hayden Roberts

    says:

    i hope we get AH-1Zs as a replacement

  • Hayden Roberts

    says:

    but i think we’ll and up getting something else

  • Fabian

    says:

    I really think that the defence force probably will be getting the AH-1z for the Canberra class or something like that (maritime)

  • Jason

    says:

    Here we go again…

    Listen carefully folks, the AH-1Z will have been out of production about five years by 2025. It’s time to think about what’s next, not about buying a helo that is a 25 year older design and is arguably less capable than the Tiger!

    In the meantime, I agree with Sean. Tiger has at least another decade of service left in Australia, and any upgrades that become available should be embraced.

  • Red Barron

    says:

    As a tax payer I want to see some return from this aircraft with minimum extra funds to keep it going. If it means another 10 yrs or having having the thing doing Bambi bucket bush fire drops I don’t care.
    Reminds me of a European vehicle like an Audi or Mercedes, expensive up front, has all these flash bells and whistles but is expensive to service and the resale is horrible. You then trade it in and go back to a Toyota because they are more reliable, parts are cheaper and the resale is there. I think we have learnt from the new Seahawks experience that off the shelf products is more cost effective for our small force.

  • Craigy

    says:

    I remember when the competition between suppliers was in full swing and the Tiger demonstrator crashed on High Range near Townsville and a marketing ploy was that the crew module survived relatively undamaged.. A big safety plus. I also believe that defence were under the impression that the tiger design was more mature than it actually was. This fallacy has meant that it has taken more effort to get where we are today.

    The tiger is not the only example of defence acquisition where capability maturity was expected but Australia has become the first of class purchaser considering the environment it was expected to operate in.. Off the shelf purchase by enlarge is never straight forward as the changes needed for Australian operations mean many changes that were never part of the systems operational testing nor specification. For example, a simple purchase of the Bay Class RFA Largs Bay (HMAS Choules). Off the shelf, you might say. No. What the Brits had found that when operating in warm waters, the engines shut down due to cooling. So the ship had to be fitted with additional engine cooling for the ship to operate in Australian waters. There is more to say but you get the idea, hopefully.

  • paul

    says:

    Why upgrade?Put that upgrade money into Apaches.

  • Adam

    says:

    Why waste money upgrading this thing when it still hasn’t reached a true FOC?
    We’ll have them for another 10 years only because that’s how long it’ll take to find and deliver a replacement.

  • Ben

    says:

    2019, current contract expires. So theoretically I’d be talking to companies now, we can be replacing them in ~5 years if we get cracking. We’ve proved we can get things done very quickly when we buy off the shelf.

  • mick181

    says:

    The money to replace the Tigers is not slated to the early 20s at the earliest and at an expected cost $5-6bn we are not going to see that replacement happen any earlier without seriously effecting other projects

  • Tim

    says:

    Just thinking outside the box, does it absolutely have to be rotary wing? Could a similar capability be achieved by something like the Super Tucano? They could operate off the Canberra LHD without needing a Thermion deck.

  • Andy

    says:

    Better to buy Apaches in the first place, would have been an intelligent thing to do !

    Rather waste money on the Tiger …..

    I like Tim’s comment…….about Super Tucanos ; what about armed PC-21 ?

    RAAF are getting the PC -21 , add a few more to the order, then that would give them “teeth” for FAC/JTAC Role

    although not a A-10… PC-21 would be a good Gunslinger

    Hope Government makes the Right choice …… Apaches and PC-21 mix

  • Hayden Roberts

    says:

    what are some attack helicopters that will probably replace the apache and cobra?

  • mick181

    says:

    Hayden the US are working on a new generation of Rotary wing aircraft that are twice as fast and have twice the range of current aircraft such as the S-97 Raider wich utilises a pusher propeller as well as the normal helicopter propeller and the V-280 Valor tilt rotar as a Blackhawk replacement by about 2030.
    If the Air 87 project(Tiger) had delivered the capability it was suppose to we would then be in a great position to transit to an aircraft with vastly superior performance capabilities by the early 30s. What we are faced with now is getting a new helicopter about 2025 and when will the US close both the Apache & Viper production lines, if we aren’t careful we could end up being a orphan operator by 2040.

  • BH

    says:

    If we are going to give Tiger another 10 yrs, why not just go to 15…? While we’re not currently aligned with the US with our attack helo capability, our other capabilities are quickly moving that way. However, instead of joining the US with Apache or Zulu in 10 yrs, it might be best to wait that little bit longer and align with them for the next gen capability from the outset. Otherwise we potentially end up with $5-6 billion worth of Apaches/Zulu’s only 5 to 7 years before the US begins to wind down support and ramps up next gen.
    We’ve been invited to take part in the development of the future capability, so maybe that should become primary focus.

  • Hayden Roberts

    says:

    i guess drones will largely fill the role of attack hellicopters

  • Mike

    says:

    The idea of something like the Super Tucano or an armed PC-21 deserves some thought. One advantage the Super Tucano has is you can buy it combat ready off the shelf, it can carry a lot of guided weapons we and our allies already have in our inventory and it has a proven record in combat. In Afghanistan it can fly a lot higher than the Apache and turn much tighter than the Spectre. Even the USAF admits it has a close air support/ground attack capability they cannot hope to replicate with the F-35. The PC-21 only has “provision for” mounting some air-to-ground weapons for COIN. It would need some expensive development and testing. But both deserve some serious consideration.

  • Hayden Roberts

    says:

    but you would always be moving in a PC-21

  • the road runner

    says:

    The problem with the ARH contest was timing ! AH-64D was on offer but was nearing its Life of Type,It would have been obsolete by now if it was chosen. The D version is now replaced by the E version, and that version was still being developed when Air87 went to tender.

    AH-1Z was still in development and would have been late just like the Tiger was. Eurocopter did state the Tiger was an Off the shelf buy ,but in reality Australia fell for that sale pitch of OTS!

    The integration of a Euro battlefield system(Eurogrid) into an American system(that Australia operates and uses to communicate to other platforms ) would have been a lot easier if we had chosen an American offering.The Tiger still can not be networked to other platforms and that is its major downfall.Not being able to share info on a networked battlefield OR to be used as a sensor to share its info that it is harvesting really is a major loss

    We would have been better purchasing Predators for Armed Recon. Long loiter times ,good weapons package, safety of pilots if something did happen in combat !

    I do not agree with a Super Tucano buy.Its a one trick pony only good in low intense conflict/COIN ops, Better off using Reapers as they bring a lot more to the table,with ISR ,fully networked ,2 days loiter time and the advantage of having pilots is a safer working environment !

    I agree, hindsight is a wonderful thing ,if Air 87 contract was on the table as of today , i am sure we would just purchase AH-64D or AH-1Z and throw in a few Reapers… Now that would really be something

    Cheers

  • Chuck

    says:

    Conspiracy theory. Australia’s government driven selection of European battlefield helicopters was indirectly linked to the decision to walk away from a European solution for the failed Submarine Combat System (SCS) for Collins. The two decisions were actually relatively close in time. The SCS was seen as vastly more complex with a naive political view being – how hard can helicopters be? That basically left defence procurement and the defence system to make good on a political square-up/horse trade.

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