Tigers’ fu­ture is up in the air

Townsville Bulletin - - DEFENDERS -

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.

FLY­ING COLOURS: Jaxon with the crew of 5th Avi­a­tion Reg­i­ment MRH- 90.

Jaxon meets Wool­ley the pure bred Alpine Dingo, mas­cot of 3rd Com­bat Engi

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