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A look at the Army’s Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter

This story about the Australian Military’s Tiger helicopter first appeared in the June 2019 edition of Australian Aviation.

Australian Army ARH Tiger Armed Reconaissance Helicopters operating together with
HMAS Canberra. (Defence)

After protracted improvement and a troubled service entry, the Australian Army’s Airbus EC 665 Tiger Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter (ARH) has only lately began hitting its straps and providing its promised capability – one which has been almost 20 years in the making.

Chosen in December 2001 to fulfil Military’s AIR 87 requirement underneath a then $1.1bn acquisition contract, the first two Tigers have been accepted by the Commonwealth in December 2004 with the final of 22 plane delivered in late 2011.

The primary 4 Tigers have been manufactured by (then) Eurocopter at the firm’s Marignane manufacturing unit in southern France, whereas the remaining 18 have been assembled at the firm’s Pinkenba facility at Brisbane Airport.

A lot has been written about the delays and capability shortfalls experienced by the ARH program, with developmental issues, groundings, spares shortages and sustainment gaps, in addition to capability and performance shortfalls variously attributed to the program, some of which shall be described under.

Current capability

The Australian Military at present operates two squadrons – 161 and 162 – each of eight plane with the 1st Aviation Brigade (1Avn) at the Robertson Barracks in Darwin, and a training detachment of 4 plane based mostly at
Oakey in southern Queensland.

As well as, one instrumented aircraft is assigned to Oakey for improvement work and to supplement the coaching
fleet, and a further aircraft is assigned to 1Avn to cowl deep maintenance.

In April 2016 the Tiger ARH lastly achieved a full operational functionality (FOC), some seven years later than deliberate.

But a 2016 Australian Nationwide Audit Office (ANAO) report found the FOC milestone lacked definition, due partially to Army amending its Acceptance into Operational Service Plan to accommodate nine caveats.

These embrace the aircraft’s decrease than anticipated rate-of-effort and delays to its Canberra class LHD integration, as well as its EW self-protection system, IFF, datalinks, and mission planning system, all of which have been nonetheless thought-about developmental or incompatible with other ADF techniques.

The ANAO report also found that the helicopter continued to endure from decrease than expected serviceability charges, and that it faced rising obsolescence points.

Apparently, the ANAO report referred to a 2013 report by Defence’s Speedy Prototyping, Improvement and Evaluation (RPDE) organisation which discovered that upgrading the Tiger was a “high-risk activity” and that alternative options must be thought-about.

One in every of the key recommendations 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”.

Further, the report stated this evaluation ought to keep in mind the associated technical risks of upgrading an aircraft which has not absolutely delivered the degree of capability initially expected by authorities.

“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 ANAO report famous.

“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’s suggestion, which it accepted, Defence stated it will “assess the best value for money and most effective capability for both the Tiger CAP and Tiger replacement. Recommendations on the timings for both programs will be considered at Gate Zero”.

Regardless of the aircraft’s disappointing improvement delays and sustainment system, its operators view the platform, including its dealing with qualities and general capabilities, very favourably. Despite having by no means been operationally deployed, in contrast to its French and German counterparts, the Australian ARH Tiger fleet leads the international fleet in its methods maturity and flight hours.

In July 2018, then Commander of Military’s 16th Aviation Brigade BRIG Steve Jobson wrote that he thought-about the Tiger a “truly world-class platform”.

“We have driven health into our Tiger organisations, with improved facilities, maintenance processes, reorganised workforce and collaborative operations,” he stated.

“Our Tiger pilots now fly greater than their friends overseas. Our Tigers deliver precision lethal results in training to more troopers of extra battalions and regiments of our personal and different friendly nations Military’s and Marine forces than ever before.

“Our Tigers now deliver reliability and performance that is the envy of the world: Proven reliability. Proven performance. No more conjecture. No more wishing. It’s happening.”

This is excessive praise certainly, notably in mild of the opposed ANAO findings from just two years previously.

“This is no longer the system we acquired,” he added. “It is now modernised with next era weapons, digitised connectivity, revolutionary techniques with unmanned aerial automobiles, and interoperability with the Royal Australian Navy, Royal Australian Air Pressure and our allies.

“The Tiger no longer just delivers tactical transactions. It has pulled the entire Army aviation capability into delivering theatre enabling, network centric, joint effects for the Joint Force Commander. Our reach and versatility now extends across all domains and components in ways you can only imagine.”

Tiger development issues addressed, operators view overall operational capability favourably. (Defence)

Tiger improvement points addressed, operators view general operational functionality favourably. (Defence)

Whether BRIG Jobson was pushing the case to retain the Tiger past the 2025 timeframe, or whether he simply needed to publicly reassure the remainder of the ADF that Tiger will retain a relevant capability proper up till that time, is unclear. Unfortunately now this is largely irrelevant, because it seems the Tiger’s fate has been sealed.

When requested on the sidelines of the 2019 Avalon Airshow about these constructive statements and the encouraging course through which the Tiger capability had been heading in recent times, Army’s Director Common Aviation BRIG John Fenwick informed Australian Aviation: “The White Paper is very clear, we need to start preparing to replace the aircraft in the mid 2025s.”

“Clearly, we are still watching the platform very closely and we are seeing improvements in it,” BRIG Fenwick stated. “But at the end of the day, government has given us very clear direction – we need to manage the aircraft to its full potential to 2025. So really our opinion is a moot point, it’s all about government direction. Now, if government tells us to change direction, we will comply accordingly.”

So, underneath current Defence planning, the Tiger is due to be upgraded underneath the $500-750m LAND 9000 Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter Functionality Assurance Program (ARH CAP) which can see the numerous obsolescence points managed until the mid-2020s, after which the functionality can be replaced.

This can be a vital watering down of the earlier $1-2bn AIR 87 Part 3 ARH CAP plan which had envisaged capability and performance enhancements, and life extension measures for a projected life-of-type into the 2030s.

A couple of speedy gadgets to be addressed underneath ARH CAP is the addition of newer Collins ARC-210 radios to switch older techniques which can soon not be supported and to raised integrate with ADF and allied methods, and the alternative of the aircraft’s gasoline tanks which have suffered from corrosion.

In the meantime, Military has addressed several of the FOC caveats, together with the communications and IFF points, and the adoption of an acceptable EWSP system. As well as, after a second spherical of First of Class trials late final yr and a successful deployment in April 2019 of 4 aircraft to Malaysia to hitch the LHD HMAS Canberra for the second half of the ADF’s Indo-Pacific Endeavour 2019 activity, the aircraft has been cleared to help amphibious and maritime operations from these vessels.

Later this yr, two plane are scheduled to be deployed to the US Navy’s digital warfare training vary at Yuma in Arizona to participate in Marine Aviation Weapons and Techniques (MAWTS) program to help develop a baseline for the aircraft’s electronic warfare system towards high constancy menace techniques.

The US Marine Corps’ MAWTS-1 is a unit devoted to the improvement of aviation techniques, and has an digital warfare Spectrum Warfare Division to fold EW into the Marines’ biannual Weapons and Techniques Teacher course.

An Australian Army Tiger fires its 30mm cannon during a combined arms live-fire activity as part of Exercise Chong Ju 2019 at Puckapunyal Training Area, Victoria. (Defence)

An Australian Army Tiger fires its 30mm cannon during a combined arms live-fire exercise as part of Exercise Chong Ju 2019 at Puckapunyal Coaching Space, Victoria. (Defence)

ARH upgrade

Regardless of a comprehensive improve of the Tiger seemingly now off the table following the ANAO report and subsequent IIP language, Airbus has continued to develop the aircraft and has proposed a variety of capability and performance enhancements for the machine.

The corporate is at present implementing Tiger Mark II upgrades for the French Army’s HAP Tiger, the version commonest to Australia’s ARH variant. The Mark II will see the addition of latest Thales-developed laser-guided rockets, in addition to upgrades to the helicopter’s GPS receiver and CRPA antenna system.

In the meantime, the extra comprehensive Mark III upgrade program was launched by means of the European Organisation Conjointe de Coopération en matière d’Armement (Organisation for Joint Armament Co-operation, or OCCAR) with Tiger operator member nations France, Germany and Spain. OCCAR had tried throughout 2016 to get a dedication from Australia to hitch the Mark III improvement effort, however this has seemingly been in useless.

While the definition of the Mark III improve is but to be finalised, the program is working with Thales and MDBA to reinforce the Tiger’s avionics and mission methods, and to develop a brand new widespread air-to-surface missile to switch the current Hellfire and Spike missiles.

Rocket fire: a Tiger unleashes on targets during Exercise Chong Ju. (Defence)

Rocket hearth: a Tiger unleashes on targets throughout Exercise Chong Ju. (Defence)

Attainable replacements

Without eager to pre-empt any alternative selections, the ANAO quoted the RPDE report as saying: “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 report then notes that in 2013 the then Defence Materials Organisation (DMO – now CASG) suggested the then Defence Minister that whereas “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 evaluation, a like-for-like alternative of the Tiger by another assault or armed reconnaissance helicopter is probably not the end results of Defence’s deliberations, with the IIP 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”.

If Defence is wanting at replacing the Tiger with another manned helicopter, there are really only two choices out there which would offer an identical capability while addressing lots of the identified interoperable deficiencies skilled with Tiger, these being the Boeing AH-64E Apache Guardian, and the Bell AH-1Z Zulu Cobra, or “Viper”.

Both of those aircraft are the latest developments of very mature methods, with many tons of of every sort in service with the US and other allied nations, including in our quick region.

The newest AH-64E Apache Guardian is at present being manufactured as new-build airframes for international clients, and remanufactured from AH-64Ds for the US Army. Originally designed as a heavy assault helicopter to defeat Soviet heavy armour in Europe, the Apache’s latest iteration adds improved endurance, interoperability with unmanned methods, and the means to interact maritime targets.

AH-64E improvement began in 2012, and adds more powerful GE T700-GE-701D turboshafts and an upgraded transmission, and new composite blades that provide a prime velocity of about 170kts and almost 50 per cent higher
endurance than the AH-64D.

Two Apaches from the United States Army’s 6th Cavalry Regiment at a joint exercise with Australian forces. (Defence)

Two Apaches from the United States Military’s 6th Cavalry Regiment at a joint exercise with Australian forces. (Defence)

Other improvements embrace longer-stroke hydraulic shock strut touchdown gear for improved crash-worthiness, and a manned-unmanned teaming (MUM-T) system datalink enabling which permits the AH-64E’s co-pilot to remotely management and obtain knowledge from unmanned techniques akin to the US Army’s MQ-1C Gray Eagle, a improvement of the MQ-1A Predator.

There are also enhanced fire-control techniques with maritime modes to determine and target vessels at sea or in the littorals, Link-16 datalinks, and a brand new ground-fire acquisition system which may determine muzzle flashes from small arms, cannons and rocket-propelled grenades, and routinely direct return hearth from the plane’s onboard 30mm cannon.

Boeing can also be engaged on a complicated improvement of the AH-64E which may have wider span stub wings and a compound “pusher” tail rotor. The idea emerged amid ongoing delays to the US Army’s Future Vertical Raise plan and a requirement to maintain the AH-64 succesful nicely into the 2030s and probably past the sort’s current planned withdrawal by 2040.

Dubbed the AH-64E Block 2 Compound, the improvement options enlarged and permanently hooked up wings, a brand new engine exhaust association, a bigger vertical tail fin, and a rear-mounted “pusher” propeller, all of that are designed to provide the Apache larger velocity and vary compared to typical fashions.

Boeing estimates the Compound improvement will provide 50 per cent more velocity. Concept testing was as a consequence of have been completed earlier this yr and, if profitable, Boeing is predicted to pitch it as an alternative choice to extra radical designs for the US Army’s Future Assault Reconnaissance Plane (FARA) aggressive program.

The Bell AH-1Z lineage dates right again to the mid-1960s when the company tailored the familiar UH-1D Huey’s driveline and dynamic elements to a lighter and slimmer tandem fuselage with stub wings to offer devoted airborne fire-support to troops in Vietnam.

Many iterations later, the AH-1Z nonetheless shares the dynamic elements of the Huey, albeit in its newest UH-1Y Yankee type, both of which have been developed in the late 90s for the US Marine Corps initially as upgrades to in-service AH-1W and UH-1N plane, but finally as new-build plane.

The AH-1Z encompasses a four-bladed composite rotor system and upgraded transmission, a four-bladed tail rotor, upgraded landing skids and a brand new fully-integrated glass cockpit, and shares 85 per cent techniques commonality with the UH-1Y.

Viper crew members use the similar Thales Prime Owl helmet-mounted sight and show system as utilized in the Australian Army’s MHR 90 transport helo.

The helicopter itself has a fully-marinised airframe and dynamic elements for maritime operations, and options higher survivability by means of the adoption of a hover infrared suppression system (HIRSS) to mask the engine exhaust, countermeasures dispensers, radar warning receivers (RWRs), incoming/on-way missile warning, and on-fuselage laser spot warning techniques.

The AH-1Z additionally includes a Lockheed Martin target sight system (TSS) with a FLIR sensor for concentrating on in day, night time and opposed climate circumstances. Weapons embrace precision-guided APKWS and Hellfire missiles, and an integral 20mm cannon.

The Bell AH-1Z Viper is a potential manned replacement for the Tiger. (Defence)

The Bell AH-1Z Viper is a potential manned alternative for the Tiger. (Defence)

Alternatives for innovation

Both the AH-64E and the AH-1Z are proven and obtainable now, but it is potential both platforms will not be in manufacturing by the planned 2025 Tiger alternative timeframe until further US or worldwide orders are acquired.

If this is the case, Defence may be pressured to widen its seek for a alternative to include new era methods which might be beneath improvement for the US Army’s FARA competitive program, an element of the service’s all-encompassing Future Vertical Raise (FVL) program designed to switch the Bell OH-58D Kiowa Warrior armed scout helicopter which was retired in 2017.

In late April the US Military Combat Capabilities Improvement Command Aviation & Missile Middle’s Aviation Improvement Directorate suggested that the FARA program was tracking a couple of months forward of schedule, and that prototype agreements had been reached with business.

The 5 agreements have been awarded to a teaming of AVX Plane Co and L3 Communications Integrated Methods with a by-product of AVX’s Joint Multi-Position (JMR) aircraft; Bell Helicopter with its typical 525 Relentless; Sikorsky with its S-97 Raider; Boeing with an as-yet undeclared contender but considered the AH-64E Block 2 Compound; and Karem Plane with a thriller design.

With the future in mind, Defence may turn to elements of the US FARA program such as the AVX Joint ulti-Role Aircraft. (AVX Aircraft)

With the future in mind, Defence might flip to parts of the US FARA program resembling the AVX Joint ulti-Position Plane. (AVX Aircraft)

Another aircraft under development within the FARA project is the Sikorsky S-97 Raider. (Sikorsky)

One other plane beneath improvement within the FARA venture is the Sikorsky S-97 Raider. (Sikorsky)

The Bell V-247 Vigilant UAS, a possible contender for the US Marine Corps MUX project. (Bell Helicopter)

The Bell V-247 Vigilant UAS, a potential contender for the US Marine Corps MUX challenge. (Bell Helicopter)

The US Military plans to have FARA prototypes flying in 2023, and to make a production determination in 2028, although this seems to be overly formidable for such developmental methods.

The US Marine Corps is operating an analogous program, the Marine Air-Floor Activity Pressure (MAGTF) Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) Expeditionary, or MUX. Designed to help manned aircraft reminiscent of the V-22 Osprey, the MUX will doubtless be unmanned, and may have an endurance of as much as eight hours and a most velocity nicely above 200kts.

The USMC aims to difficulty a request for info to business early next yr, with the ambition of trialling operational capability as early as 2026. Potential contenders for MUX embrace the Bell V-247 Vigilant idea which resembles a slightly smaller and sleeker V-22 tiltrotor, and the Northrop Grumman/DARPA Tactically Exploited Reconnaissance Node (TERN) tail-sitter idea.

Whereas MUX on paper appears to far exceed the ARH specs of the Tiger and other manned helicopters, it supplies vital capability and adaptability that manned plane can’t match now or in the near future.

Like FARA, MUX is more likely to be at least a decade or more away from getting into service, let alone being out there for export. Thus there’s a probably a six or extra yr gap the place no devoted manned armed reconnaissance or assault platform of US origin is obtainable to the ADF if the 2025 Tiger retirement date is adhered to.

However such a state of affairs might deliver the opportunity for an additional probably revolutionary answer into play, one which will present some aircraft and/or techniques commonality advantages to the ADF.

Army at present has one other manned aviation program underway – the LAND 2097 Part 4 mild particular forces help helicopter which is planned to enter service shortly before the deliberate Tiger alternative.

It says it requires at least 16 helicopters for city particular forces (SF) operations, four of which may be deployed at a time quickly by way of RAAF C-17A transport, and made able to fly inside 30 minutes. The new helicopter will complement the larger machines at present operated by Army’s 6 Aviation Regiment (6Avn) at Holsworthy in Sydney, which is presently transitioning from the S-70A-9 Black Hawk to the Airbus MRH 90 Taipan.

A number of of the possible LAND 2097/4 contenders – Bell with its 407GX/GT or 429, Airbus with the H145M, and Boeing with its AH-6i Little Chook – supply armed variations of those aircraft with missionised techniques, excessive performance sensors, and stub wings or pylons with forward-firing precision guided weapons.

Whereas a army by-product of a business platform clearly wouldn’t supply the similar levels of performance, survivability and functionality as a dedicated ARH or assault helicopter, a Tiger alternative based mostly on the profitable SF help helicopter might supply large operational savings and adaptability to the ADF, with little danger.

The other choice for Army to think about is to revert to its unique plan to improve the Tiger’s techniques past just addressing obsolescence points so it may proceed in service till a extra succesful alternative comparable to the successful FARA or MUX program answer is out there and has matured sufficiently for export.

VIDEO: A look at the Tiger at the Indo-Pacific Endeavour 2019 workouts from the Australian Military’s YouTube channel.

This story first appeared in the June 2019 edition of Australian Aviation. To succeed in more stories like this, develop into a member here.