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Defence picks Boeing Apache to replace beleaguered Airbus Tigers

written by Staff reporter | January 18, 2021

Boeing’s AH-64E Apache Guardian will replace the Australian Army’s beleaguered Tiger Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter capability from 2025, writes Stephen Kuper.

It comes after a damning National Audit Office report in 2016 found 76 “capability deficiencies” with the Tiger fleet, including 60 of which that were deemed to be critical. It was then revealed only a fraction of the aircraft were available to be flown on any given day in 2015.

Lessons learnt from issues with the ARH Tiger informed the strategy to seek a proven, mature ARH replacement capability.

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“This new ARH capability will strengthen Australia’s armed reconnaissance force to better shape our strategic environment and deter actions against our national interest. Defence considered a number of helicopters against key criteria of proven ability, maturity and an off-the-shelf operating system,” Defence Minister Linda Reynolds said.

“The Apache Guardian is the most lethal, most survivable and lowest risk option, meeting all of Defence’s capability, through-life support, security, and certification requirements.

“By pursuing a proven and low-risk system offered by the Apache, Defence will avoid the ongoing cost and schedule risk typically associated with developmental platforms.

“The project will deliver on the government’s vision to maximise Australian industry involvement in defence capability. There are potential opportunities for Australian industry in logistic support, warehousing services, training development, engineering services, and maintenance, repair and overhaul.

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“Maximising these opportunities for Australian businesses will enable the future growth of our local rotary wing industry and will present opportunities for Australian industry involvement in the aircraft’s global supply chain.”

The AH-64E Apache is one of the world’s most advanced multi-role combat helicopter and represents the backbone of the US Army attack helicopter fleet, as well as a growing number of international defence forces.

A Boeing Defence Australia spokesperson said, “Boeing appreciates the Commonwealth of Australia’s confidence in selecting the AH-64E Apache’s proven, reliable and value-for-money capability.

“The AH-64E Apache provides Australia with a low-risk, fully-integrated, battle-proven capability which is interoperable with Australia’s key allies. It is supported by an active production line and a US Army modernisation plan through the late 2040s, thereby ensuring the platform remains the leading attack reconnaissance capability through 2050 and beyond.”

22 Comments

  • AndyR2D2

    says:

    Why wasn’t the Apache the first choice all along? The Tigre turned out to be a false economy and a massive failure by most standards. Kudos to the Australian Army Aviation Corps for making do for so long.

    • Amy Jaye

      says:

      The Apache on offer at the time was the AH-64D, which had its fair share of issues in Iraq and Afghanistan – main rotor blade leading edge and compressor/stator blade erosion, inability to lift both Longbow and a full weapons load, low range/endurance, very maintenance intensive.. The Tigre was assessed as being the best fit for the RFT requirements, particularly its ISR fit.

      Not sure what the ‘most standards’ are that you refer to, but my personal standard for a ‘massive failure’ is a failure to reach IOC or FOC AT ALL rather than seriously delayed. ARH finally got through FOC over four years ago and is at last doing what it should.

      Colleagues in AAAvn are mystified why FOC and subsequent successes have been downplayed by Defence. If it wants to spend 4.5 billion I can give them a long list of better options.

  • Gordon Mackinlay

    says:

    I am quite sure that the French, German and Spanish army air corps will pick them up very quickly. Having used them extremely successfully since 2007, with out any of these Australian MAJOR problems.

    All three air corps and other air arms are sniffing around to provide tactical air support, with 46 machines of the NR-90 being junked. They also do not have the Australian problems, and it is considered a very capable tactical helicopter.

    Interestingly, the air branch of the Belgium Armed Forces are getting rid of their four NR-90’s. Not because of its military inability, but, the sheer cost of the F-35 force and its maintenance costs have forced them to make more cutbacks (a parachute and two motorised infantry battalions disbanded 2017-18 for the initial payments for the F-35 force). And it appears that Luxembourg will attempt to buy.

    I do think that the 2 aircraft are at faulty, it far more to do with high level leadership (or should I say Management, as leadership seems to be a dirty word in the ADF today), and the technical skills involved with the RAEME personnel. A very high level of discharge of trained personnel, a over reliance with civil contractors, and the list goes on. Remember some years ago the scandal with the training of RAEME personnel up in Darwin.

  • Andrew Long

    says:

    What will Defence do with the Tiger fleet?

    • Any Jaye

      says:

      Probably sell them back to Airbus or another current operator. France and Germany both scaled their buys back for budget reasons.

  • Peter Hall

    says:

    So have we learnt our lesson with military equipment or are we still going with unproven French submarines?
    To continue to make the same mistakes with tax payer money is criminal.
    Buy proven American subs training and maintenance is there.
    Our military deserves the best proven equipment available to go to war with.

    • Brian

      says:

      Unfortunately Peter, the Americans do not have conventionally powered submarine designs for the RAN.

    • Mtr

      says:

      Are you aware that those Tigers helicopters, just like the barracuda submarines, are working perfectly fine in the french army ?

      You should ask youself why your helicopters suffers so much flaws, where were they built ? Damn, that’s right… in Australia, by australians.

      So you should go easy on the french bashing, we build and design things you can’t, it works but requires IKEA+ building skills.

  • Graeme Tobin

    says:

    The defence department never ask for the French acft , both MRH90 or TIGER you should look at the Government in place at the time, defence wouldn’t the Apache, and the S 60 Blackhawk, but then us soldiers we new that the government at the time must have beening paid under the table.

  • Sotoz888

    says:

    The clowns in Australian procurement are the most abysmal incompetent fools and a long history of failures. The latest screw ups being the F35 Flying brick, ludicrous submarines that has an estimated cost for design alone at $6 Billion. We need to look at real world options and the SU34 fighter bomber from Russia is an awesome fighter bomber that bests the F111 Aardvark in its day. There is absolutely no reason not to trade and build relations with Russia and stop being a satellite of the USA. Our snivelling politicians are puppets and betray the core essence of Australia.

    • Amy Jaye

      says:

      You’re almost 50% correct, sort of.

      MRH90 wasn’t the Defence recommendation to government, UH-60/S-70 was – but it was far from unanimous. Navy wanted a marinised aircraft, SF and medics were keen on a rear ramp and grunts wanted a bigger cabin. AAAvn were super keen on UH-60L/M because it was a worthwhile improvement on a known quantity and hey! training and exchange trips to the US of A!

      Tiger? yeah, nah..absolutely selected by the Defence project team as the best fit for the RFT requirements. The ANAO report makes that clear. Apache had its fans but not the majority.

      Us soliders? I was one at the time and I ‘new’ no such thing..

  • Iain

    says:

    Apache should have been the first choice from the start. The tiger crashed several times during demonstrations. But was chosen for its survivability. I remember when I was posted in Townsville one fell out of the sky through a house. Great helicopter NOT. SAME WITH THE STEYR should’ve gone the M16 variants. Less issues proven performance. No Australian defence has to go the cheaper option which ends up costing more.

  • Gary

    says:

    I believe Apache was Army’s choice originally; however, Budget issues at the time would have resulted in a greatly reduced order nowhere near the 29 we are now obtaining.

  • Brad

    says:

    That’s right buy 50 year old technology now that the US is looking to replace their Apaches

  • Gordon Mackinlay

    says:

    I attempted to respond to this article yesterday, but on both times it failed to ‘take’? The Tiger overseas has seen highly successful combat service, France, Germany and Spain have used it in Iraq, AFGHAN, Dijbutti and else where. As with any high tech a/c it had teething problems. These were enhanced by Army Aviation, constantly changing the a/c, fitting the Hellfire and US 2.75 rockets, the communications suite, flare and electronic counter-measures, and more. To which must be added the woes of the RAEME and its training system (the debacle up in Darwin some years should be recalled. Its problems are not the fault of the successful a/c but upon a woefully inadequate military hierarchy, poor administration, training and logistics.

    The NH-90 is also overseas a highly successful system, again with much combat service, from the high mountains of the Hindu Kush to the appalling deserts of North Central Africa. It has proven highly successful in such as counter-terrorism and special operations. The problem with the cargo bay were easily solved by the Finnish Air Force by the fitment of a 8mm marine ply over floor, which was adopted by other air arms, and to be replaced during the normal “Deep” maintenance in the normal cycle. The AdF response to this has been woeful!

    The RNZAF in comparison to the Army Aviation, has produced a highly successful a/c in operations from SAR, tactical support for the army front line units, to special operations be they land or maritime. Lessons should have been learned from them.

    When Army learned of the purchase of the Tiger and then the NR-90 it literally spat the dummy, the Apache and the Blackhawk are both far more sexy a/c. Perhaps it would be more appropriate for the Fleet Air Arm and Army to transfer theiir a/c to the RAAF?

    Paying 49.7 cents in the dollar tax (plus GST) I have a vested interest in the effect use of the tax dollar, and a resulting efficient and effective ADF.
    Yours, G.A.MACKINLAY

  • Frank N

    says:

    Australia so often chooses exotic and unproven equipment – rotary winged aircraft in particular – only to find we’ve bought a lemon. We had those Vietnam era naval helicopters which we tried to customise only to end up dumping them in the end. Buy tried and true I reckon!! Are we going to dump the French subs before we have similar problems????

  • Chris Adam

    says:

    Similar to new RAN Vessels, why can’t components be made here in Australia and “modules” be shipped to Australia and assembled here in Australia?

  • Maurice Purdie

    says:

    Now all Australia has to do is find an American replacement for the MRH-90, and quick so we are not bleed cost wise for much longer

  • Gordon Mackinlay

    says:

    My Godson called in the AM, he transferred over from UH-H in 2011, flying the MR-90 (or the CH-47 in its variants) since, he has absolutely no complaints in regard to the a/c. The troops on the ground really like it, easy to get on and full when you are in full equipment. And you don’t have to bend over when you are in the cabin unlike the Blackhawk. and the logistic units like its cargo ability. The majority of pilots and loadmaster are extremely comfortable with the a/c, and as the RAEME maintenance force improves in its technical ability so do they.

    The sheer cost of replacing this a/c for a totally different is truly immense!

    In regard to the purchase of the then Apache D Model in 1997, our funding would only allow for eleven a/c (Boeing made a offer to sell 14 ex-US Army A models refurbished to D standard for the same price). Too expensive and too few.

  • Trevor Evans

    says:

    I was involved in the AIR97 Project with Force Development (Aerospace) back in the late 1990s. The ADF, and the Army wanted the AH-64D because it was a proven system with a proper and proven supply chain of parts, but the Government chose the Tiger due to Offsets and Jobs, and promised capability, not demonstrated capability. The fundamental problem with most of these comments is that people here believe the fault lies with the ADF, but most of the time that isn’t the case. The Government of day makes it’s purchasing decisions based on financial reasons and what is likely to play well to a domestic audience that will vote them in at the next election, so Jobs are the main reason they make a decision. Let’s face it, all of the aircraft tendered for AIR87 were capable, but the people in Uniform at the Russell Offices pick the best tool for the job, the Joint Parliamentary Committee considers other factors and that’s how decisions are made at that level. Since the Government has now made the decision they should have made in the first place, maybe they should look at getting the S-70i from Poland to replace the MRH-90. The S-70i is a fully digital and upgraded UH-60M licensed built in Poland. The cost of these are about the same as ordering Bell 412HPs, and far more capable. What Australia should be doing is buying proven equipment that is interoperable with our major allies and doing local support and training. The most important thing is also to consider supply chain logistics and commonality of training. The submarine project is another fiasco, what the RAN needs now are modern subs available in the next ten years, and the A26 should have been considered, particularly the OER version with the vertical launch tubes. We should also have considered adding a Sub Base in Darwin to extend range and reduce transit times. We learned a lot from the Collins Class, and that should be put to good use. Going that route we save a lot of money for capability when it’s needed. My guess is we wont see a Short Fin in Operation until the very late 2030s, which will be too late. What we also need is a purpose built light carrier with F35B to go along with the LHDs. As for Bombers, add long range cruise missiles to the P8s, like the US is proposing. The PRC will be turning expeditionary in the next few years, and we need to get ahead of the curve.

  • Andrew Combe

    says:

    Stop buying unproven European designs then trying to re-configure them to Australian needs. Europe is a continent but it’s small nations and predominantly cooler climates do not match the Australian geography or strategic realities – wide, open spaces and massive sea responsibilities. Buy off the shelf American systems that have been proved to work in operational environments similar to Australia. You get three immediate benefits: 1. Reliability. 2. Immediate use capacity. 3. Interoperability. The Blackhawk, M16 platform, F/A18 platform and M1 tank all spring to mind.

    • Richard Lutz

      says:

      Seems a sensible choice on interoperability and proven reliability grounds, as with the Blackhawks and F/A18 aircraft and M1 tanks. It would also be desirable to cancel the diesel-electric powered French subs and adopt refurbished nuclear powered Los Angeles-class subs.
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Los_Angeles-class_submarine

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