Aussie Tiger - helicopter with an Amphibious future

Selected in 2001 under the auspices of Project AIR 87 the Franco - German Eurocopter Tiger EC665 is giving the Army an impressive level of combat capability. Australia required a versatile platform to replace two existing types of rotary aircraft; the Vietnam era Bell 206B-1 Kiowa and UH-1-H Iroquois ‘Bushranger’ gunship helicopters.

1st Nov 2010


Selected in 2001 under the auspices of Project AIR 87 the Franco - German Eurocopter Tiger EC665 is giving the Army an impressive level of combat capability. Australia required a versatile platform to replace two existing types of rotary aircraft; the Vietnam era Bell 206B-1 Kiowa and UH-1-H Iroquois ‘Bushranger’ gunship helicopters.

In examining the strengths and weaknesses of the French HAP and German HHT designs against the Australian requirements saw the configuration of the Tiger ARH emerge. The resulting overall contract package included two Squadrons of helicopters, a comprehensive training system with simulators and associated logistics support.

The first four Australian Army ARH Tigers were manufactured in Europe, with the remaining 18 aircraft being assembled by Australian Aerospace, a subsidiary of EADS, at their Brisbane Queensland facility. This facility will also provide through-life support in terms of repairs, modifications, overhauls and upgrades. The Tiger was chosen because it had a future growth and development pathway over other contenders and legacy airframes.

It has ushered in the age of digitally controlled rotary aircraft, along with introducing a carbon fibre monocoque composite airframe into the inventory of the Australian Army. The Tiger ARH has produced some excellent outcomes for both the Australian Defence Force and Australian Industry. High end technology transfers, science and engineering facilities, and new skills base are such outcomes. One element is a AUS$15 million composite fibre material manufacturing plant in Brisbane which produces key components for the Australian Army Tiger and supplies the global supply chain.

The Brisbane based facility also paving the way for the construction of the 46 MRH-90 helicopter for the Army and Navy, and which from an industry perspective provides a strong argument for the replacement of the S-70B-2 Navy Seahawks, Sea Kings MK50A and scrapped SH-2G(A) Sea Sprites under Project AIR 9000, with the NH-90 helicopter.

Australian specifications and project drivers saw the Tiger ARH program leap ahead of the models being developed for France and Germany. This in turn influenced the Spanish purchase and design specifications, given that the Mediterranean climate has some similarities to that of northern Australia. Furthermore, the French Army decided to upgrade most of their HAP (Hélicoptère d'Appui Protection or Support and Escort Helicopter) configured helicopters to the HAC-variant (Hélicoptère de Combat Polyvalent or Multipurpose Combat Helicopter) and thus the former HAC Variant ( Hélicoptère Anti-Char or Anti-Tank Helicopter) was cancelled.

On the success on the Australian program, France decided to equip Hellfire missiles to its second batch of 40 aircraft. Another outcome for the Australian Government, is that if other nations follow suit as under a Deed of Indemnity and Substitution, it is eligible for royalty payments from its own successful Research and Development. This may be to the tune of up to AUS$800,000 per aircraft for full or partial capability.

The ARH Tiger’s composite airframe is made from 80% carbon fibre reinforced polymer, kevlar, 11% aluminium and 6% titanium. Not only does this mean that they are extremely strong, but they are also able to resist heavy combat damage. Its composite fibre construction means that marinisation or its ability to be based and deployed from a ship is not an issue. The suitability of the Tiger helicopter for seaborne operations that includes weapons loading, has already been demonstrated successfully by the French Navy in heavy seas.

Furthermore, the requirement for the Australian Tiger ARH to operate on a LPA has been recently tested on the amphibious ship HMAS Kanimbla. Based upon the success of these demonstrations and subject to any emergent limitations as assessed as part of the First of Class Flight Trials, it is expected that the Tiger ARH will easily be transitioned to future operations off the Royal Australian Navy’s Canberra Class Amphibious ships currently under construction.

The Aussie Tiger ARH is currently undergoing acceptance into operational service with the Australian Army’s 1st Aviation Regiment located at Robertson Barracks in Darwin, in the Northern Territory. Final Operational Capability for the Australian Army is programmed for December 2012.

The Army’s 1st Aviation Regiment Tiger ARH are to deploy on EXERCISE HAMEL 2010. EX. HAMEL is a Forces Command Field Training Exercise that will occur in the vicinity of Townsville North Queensland in early November of 2010. The ARH will fly reconnaissance, airmobile escort and close combat attack missions as part of an aviation battle group in support of Army’s 3rd Brigade.

The 1st Aviation Regiment will be deploying a Squadron of ARH via Royal Australia Air Force C-17 IIIA Globemaster aircraft from Darwin to Townsville in early October 2010. On completion of the Exercise all ARH helicopters will then return by self-deployment. During the Exercise the Tiger ARH will be firing its chin mounted 30mm gun, 2.75 inch/70mm rockets and AGM-114M Hellfire missiles culminating in a live fire exercise with the Brigade battle groups.

The Australian Defence Force and Defence Materiel Organisation (DMO) are ever conscious of the risks involved with a relatively immature platform, regardless of how innovative it appears. Defence, as a consequence of previous experiences with a variety of platforms and systems have ensured that the Australian Army is a member of what is known as the Tiger Build-up Group (TBG). The TBG is designed to facilitate networking between all current military operators of the Tiger, being France, Germany and Spain. The DMO and Australian Army representatives attended TBG 16 in Germany in September 2010.

France has sent its Tiger helicopter to support both French and Coalition forces in Afghanistan as part of its commitment to ISAF. Representatives from the Australian Army have recently observed the French Army Aviation contingent deployed to Afghanistan. This deployment has proved valuable in continuing the relationship between the French and Australian armies, and in sharing lessons on Tiger development. One outcome has been a general understanding of logistic and technical support that the French Army HAP version has in place.

One novel feature devised in preparation for the Afghanistan deployment has seen the French develop a procedure where a downed pilot could be transported by sitting on one of the rescue Tiger's main wheels. Other outcomes have been the application of a system to better filter the fine and destructive dust, and upgrades to weapons and software. Not all these developments and procedures will be incorporated by Australia. For example tactics to operate in difficult flying conditions such as flight at extremely high altitudes. The fleet of three EC665 Tigers in the HAP configuration and operated by the French Army’s 5th Combat Helicopter Regiment, have now logged more than 1,000 flight hours in Afghanistan in less than a year.

With an incredibly high availability rate of 90% in extremely harsh operating conditions, the Tiger has demonstrated excellent performance and operability levels for both reconnaissance and combat support operations. Given that Australia has forces actively deployed within Afghanistan, Aussie Tigers could be deployed there to provide support in the future. Regardless of whether the ARH is deployed to Afghanistan, valuable lessons are in the process of being learnt, which are sharpening both the teeth and claws of the ARH’s capabilities.

Australian Tiger ARH crews and those of the MRH-90 currently use the TopOwl Helmet Mounted Sight Display (HMSD) Configuration 0 from Thales Avionics. The ARH Project Office is currently in the process of accepting TopOwl HMSD 3, with the primary advantage being improved night vision image capabilities and the ability to conduct missions in a wider spectrum of night-time conditions. TopOwl displays high resolution Forward Looking Infra Red vision, symbology, and Intensified Images on the helmet visor and can be switched between modes with ease. The helmet allows pilots to fly “head-up and eyes-out” by day or night and in extreme conditions.

The Royal Australian Navy has undergone somewhat of a revolution with the introduction of its two largest ships to date in its 99 years of service to the Australian nation. Known as the Canberra Class, these Landing Helicopter Docks (LHDs) are to provide transport for the Australian Army and provide significantly greater capabilities and versatility than the current amphibious transports in the RAN. These may be called upon in a time of war, peacekeeping or disaster relief. Whilst based on the Spanish BPE Buque de Proyección Estratégica (Strategic Projection Ship) design, they have an Army centric focus. This will mean that CH-47 Chinooks, MRH-90 and Tiger ARH will be deployed aboard from time to time.

One role of the Tiger is to provide the only dedicated Close Air Support role to be installed upon the Canberra’s. The Tiger will be the principle provider of CAS, as whilst the Canberra’s are fitted with a ski ramp, Defence has not planned to carry fixed winged assets. Therefore the armoured Tiger with its 30mm chin mounted gun and load of Hellfire Missiles and 2.75inch/70mm rockets will provide the bulk of Australian CAS in Amphibious ship to shore operations in the absence of an aircraft carrier or fixed winged ship deployable aircraft,

These ships will each be able carry up to 1000 troops along with a substantial inventory of equipment. It is unlikely that this Class of ship will ever deploy devoid of an escort from the Hobart Class Air Warfare Destroyer and Adelaide Class Frigates. The protection of such skilled personal and equipment aboard the LHDs is paramount, and requires creating a protective screen and defensive bubble around these capital assets at all times.

One such way this will occur is thrugh Project AIR 9000 Phase 8, which will replace the current fleet of aging Sikorsky S-70B-2 Seahawk helicopters. Furthermore, the winner of AIR 9000 Phase 8 will be tasked with the provision of Anti-Surface Warfare (ASuW), Anti-Subsurface Warfare (ASW), Search and Rescue (SAR) and troop insertion.

The chosen helicopter type will be equipped with passive and active submarine detection as well as tracking sensors, torpedos and missiles that will assist with the defence of the LHDs and Australian Army assets whilst at sea. The eventual naval helicopter replacement will at times be deployed cross deck and be supported from these LHDs. Touted as an AUS$1.5 billion deal, the contest is currently between the Sikorsky/Lockheed Martin Seahawk MH-60-R (Romeo) and the NHI/Australian Aerospace NFH 90 with up to 24 airframes, required to generate 8 simultaneous flights at sea.

Whatever the outcome it will set the direction of ship based RAN Rotary capability for the next 30 years. An objective of Project AIR 9000 is the reduction of the overall number of helicopter types in the ADF. Logically, a single type would provide an ease of logistics with the NH-90 sharing significant parts commonality with the existing MRH-90s as operated by the Australian Army and Royal Australian Navy from the decks of the LHD.

The external physical dimensions of the Australian Army’s/RAN current fleet of MRH 90s and of the NH-90 NFH are very similar in size to those of the Sikorsky MH-60R. One item of mutual compatibility is that they are both equipped with the AGM-114 Hellfire II missile. The Hellfire is a relatively short range missile at 8 km, carrying a warhead of approximately 9 kg, it is certainly not a ship killer.

The United States Navy has 5 existing Squadrons of Sea Hawk Romeo models in place. Australia has requested approval through Foreign Military Sale (FMS) process to potentially procure 24 MH-60Rs. Both competing airframe types are still under consideration at this time.

In the future, this might mean that the Tiger ARH may provide armed escort for the MRH-90, CH-47 Chinook, or potentially MH-60R Seahawks or NH-90 helicopters ashore from the deck of a RAN Canberra Class Amphibious Ship, support the Abrams M1A1 AIM main battle tanks, cover the medical evacuations of injured troops from the battle field or attack entrenched enemy forces.

The Australian ARH Tigers are proving to be a versatile and competent airframe providing a modern attack and reconnaissance capability to support the Australian Army and its allies from the sea or the land when required.


 

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