Tigers’ future is up in the air
THE army’s troubled Tiger armed reconnaissance helicopter fleet may face further scrutiny after a German variant crashed in West Africa late last week.
While the cause of that crash which killed both crew is yet to be determined, it further reinforces the belief the Tiger is not fit for purpose.
Germany was operating four Tigers supporting UN operations in Mali when the crash occurred.
The crashed helicopter was monitoring ground confrontations about 70km northeast of Gao International Airport when it plunged into the desert, bursting into flames on impact.
The crew did not send a distress call.
Germany’s deputy inspector general ruled out external factors including attack as causing the crash.
Germany had grounded the choppers earlier in the year when there were concerns about their operation in extreme desert temperatures above 40C but heat was also ruled out as a factor.
Australian Tiger crews experienced a number of incidents where the pilot was temporarily disabled by noxious cockpit gases, although in each incident a crew member was able to land the safely.
There have also been issues with software and weapon interoperability, data communications and spare parts availability.
Although the Australian Tigers have not been used in combat operations, other operators have deployed them.
Germany has previously operated its Tigers in Afghanistan.
In June Airbus, the Tiger manufacturer, announced an upgrade program for the 22 aircraft Australian fleet, though no decision has yet been announced whether that may proceed.
The interim upgrade is based on the Tiger Mark 2 development being considered by European operators, including France.
A Tiger 3 is also being developed which will also be a aircraft competitor for Australia’s future ARH requirement.
When the Defence Materiel Organisation decided some years ago to replace the ADF’s helicopter fleet with untested European NH90 medium lift helicopters and French Tiger attack helicopters, serious concerns were expressed about the wisdom of such acquisitions.
Neither were operated by Australia’s principal allies nor proven in combat and both had troubled operational histories.
The first Tigers were delivered in 2004 but did not meet full operational capability until 2016, seven years later than intended.
Concerns about the capabilities of the NH90 MLH capability have caused the ADF to retain Sikorsky Blackhawks for some requirements, including counter- terrorism operations. sponsored by
Blackhawks are operated by most of Australia’s principal allies.
This week Sikorsky Australia announced a $ 63 million deal to refurbish former US Blackhawks for firefighting.
Those refurbishments will be done at Pinkenba in Brisbane. Sikorsky also maintains facilities in Townsville and elsewhere.
The Tiger has not met operational expectations and is unlikely to do so.
The decision which needs to be made is whether to keep pouring money into the ADF’s underperforming Tiger fleet, or look at other options.
That may include leasing Boeing AH- 64 Apache helicopters from the US.
Increasing regional tensions which could see Australia involved in combat sooner rather than later mean we cannot be a toothless tiger.