USE THIS ONEThe fate of Army’s fleet of 22 Tiger Armed Reconnaissance Helicopters hangs in the balance. The Managing Director of Airbus Australia Pacific, Andrew Mathewson, has revealed today that Defence rejected an offer of 22 upgraded Tigers plus an additional 7 H145Ms to meet the requirement for LAND 4503.  The fear of the company is that the Army might rush to a direct FMS purchase of 29 Boeing Apache attack helicopters, with immediate and disastrous consequences for almost 300 of their Brisbane-based engineers and software developers, who will face redundancy.

Sept issue
An Aircraft Director assists an ARH Tiger depart the flight deck of HMAS Canberra during the Joint Warfighter Series 2019.

Apparently the Government has stated that a decision on the way ahead for LAND 4503 will be made before the end of the year.  Given that the Tigers have plenty of airframe life in them – they could keep flying until 2040  – it is not at all clear what the advantage to Australia is of scrapping a competition that will lead to major cost savings, no matter which helicopter is selected.

It has been an open secret for years that some sections of the Army have always wanted the US Apache, seemingly oblivious to the fact that after initial problems with availability, the entire Tiger fleet is performing extremely well – not only operationally but also financially.  However, the way that the Defence system works is that once guidance was given in the 2016 White Paper to replace the Tigers, that is the path down which the bureaucracy is moving – irrespective of the major and positive changes that have taken place during the last four years.  This has meant that funds have not been made available to upgrade the Tigers – for example by integrating Link 16, which the company has offered to do on four separate occasions – making their replacement something of a self-fulfilling prophesy.

The Apache. (PHOTO: Shutterstock)

None of this is to detract from the Apache, which is a formidable helicopter that has been manufactured in huge numbers – around 2,400 to date – and sold by the US to almost 20 different users. Apaches are still being built, but the Tiger production line has closed having supplied 180 to four nations: Australia, Germany, France and Spain.

A problem for Tiger and Airbus Helicopters is that Defence is now so awash with money that a A$3 billion saving has little appeal. It might also be that as Australia tries to get even closer to the US – as difficult as that is to imagine – geostrategic considerations might be working in favour of the Apache and the other US competitor for LAND 4503, the Bell-Textron Viper.

The Viper in action. (PHOTO: Shutterstock)

At the very least, it is to be hoped that the government will continue with an open competition for the project, rather than being stampeded by Army into a purchase of a capable but expensive solution. Such a purchase will require a complete overhaul of the Army’s training and support system as well as all of the usual issues associated with bringing a new platform into service.

Airbus Helicopters might be down, but they are not out. It is their intention to now offer 29 Tigers for LAND 4503.  These will be 22 Australian Tigers plus seven that they will acquire from another operator to meet the required total. These can all be upgraded in Brisbane at a cost that will be a fraction of that for new Apaches or Vipers.


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Kym Bergmann is the editor for Asia Pacific Defence Reporter (APDR) and Defence Review Asia (DRA). He has more than 25 years of experience in journalism and the defence industry. After graduating with honours from the Australian National University, he joined Capital 7 television, holding several positions including foreign news editor and chief political correspondent. During that time he also wrote for Business Review Weekly, undertaking analysis of various defence matters.After two years on the staff of a federal minister, he moved to the defence industry and held senior positions in several companies, including Blohm+Voss, Thales, Celsius and Saab. In 1997 he was one of two Australians selected for the Thomson CSF 'Preparation for Senior Management' MBA course. He has also worked as a consultant for a number of companies including Raytheon, Tenix and others. He has served on the boards of Thomson Sintra Pacific and Saab Pacific.


  1. An obvious problem with the Tigers is potential attrition. What if someare lost in accidents or a conflict? No replacements are even possible. This is surely a major factor in the decision to upgrade the capability.

    • I think that is a good point and worth applying to all acquisitions. If we were to lose an F-35, how long would it take to receive a replacement? I’m guessing several years. The only way to get around that problem is to have a lot of indigenous capacity.

      • In a scrape I’d be reasonably confident replacement f-35s and other commonly shared platforms could be had from the US or perhaps even other allies in a relatively timely manner.

    • I think its a problem not unique to the Tigers, but to the ADF as a whole, which is ‘brittle’ because its capability development has focused for too long on small numbers of high-end boutique platforms. That approached worked fine in a relatively stable and peaceful environment. But as the 2020 Defence Strategic Update made clear, we no longer have the luxury of assuming we have ten years of strategic warning before a major power high intensity conflict – and that is the challenge we should plan for. That means we need larger, more capable and sustainable forces rather than small packets of capability that can’t sustain any losses.

      A better solution than sustaining 22 Tigers would be investing in the 29 Apache E’s, but also complementing those airframes with much greater use of autonomous systems including lethal autonomous systems that can exploit the Apache’s ‘MUM-T’ capability. The Apache hangs back, and manages swarms of lethal drones – have a look at what’s going on over Nagorno-Karabakh for example – to confront an adversary ground force.

      Time to throw aside outdated acquisition cycles and capability development mindsets.

      • Thanks Malcolm – do you think there would be scope for keeping Tiger and adding Apache? As I mentioned, the Tigers have plenty of airframe life and their major deficiency – lack of integrated Link 16 – is quick and easy to fix. Or is that being too creative? They are substantially different helicopters: Apache is heavier and shorter range because it has a lot of armor; the payload of Tiger is comparable to Apache but overall it is 4 tonnes lighter because it is designed as a fast, nimble ARH rather than a heavy tank-buster.

        • I think it would depend on whether a case for additional funding to operate and sustain two different types of platforms simultaneously. Obviously, keeping the Tigers means that jobs are sustained, but if we invest in Apache, we should also seek to establish a local sustainment and maintenance hub that could also support regional partner’s use of the platform – Indonesia and Singapore come to mind. Perhaps some jobs could be transferred from Tiger to Apache.

          Agree – adding in datalinks is no problem if we were to keep the Tiger.

          Interesting to see if a Tiger-Apache team, together with more innovative and wide-scale use of armed drones, could be a possibility.

          • Once again we will pay far to much as usual. The Aussie way. The HM145s were for special forces, combined it would have been cost effective. Now we will pay a lot more for each scenario, that will make the Americans happy, not the tax payer.would it not be prudent to have both platforms

  2. Hmm and also perhaps the fact that the ADF requires 7 extra birds? Unless Airbus can supply an extra 7 tigers then the offer from Airbus pure and simple does not meet the numbers required. That’s what it comes down to.

    • A very fair point – but where does the number 29 actually come from? The offer of 22 upgraded Tigers (including Link 16) + 7 H145M helicopters seems interesting.

      • Once again we will pay far to much as usual. The Aussie way. The HM145s were for special forces, combined it would have been cost effective. Now we will pay a lot more for each scenario, that will make the Americans happy, not the tax payer.

      • 29 was derived to ensure Tiger wouldn’t be retained, there has been considerable effort from many within Army to ensure Tiger is scrapped.

  3. Another issue is Manned-Unmanned-Teaming (MUMT) with US designed next LAND 129 contenders – which may have datalinks not releasable to Airbus.

  4. A few people have commented on the advantages of having a platform in production as an advantage when it comes to obtaining replacements. This is correct – but it only goes so far. Because there is a production backlog for things such as F-35s and Apaches, any Australian order would automatically be at the back of that queue. Just like orders for commercial aircraft, that probably means a delay of 2-3 years before the thing is delivered. To obtain something quicker than that, it would mean another country giving up a few of their production slots for Australia. That might happen if we threw a lot of money at it – but in the event of a major conflict it probably won’t as all countries – particularly the US – will want the items that they are already contracted to receive.

    • Moving orders forward happens all the time in military and civil aircraft production. Swapping slots it’s called.

      Our F/A-18F purchase was through FMS and the US Navy provided us with slots. Another recent example is Greece buying the Rafale fighter and France giving them 12 almost new aircraft from the French Air and Space Force plus eight “new builds”. The Frogs by the way have ordered 12 replacement ships.

      Once an aircraft goes out of production like the Tigre then getting parts and support particularly upgrades is very problematic. The Apache on the other hand has a long life ahead. The RAF is replacing their WAH-64D’s with new AH-64E’s rather than waste money upgrading their older birds.

      • In peacetime yes orders move around but my point was more what happens during a conflict when most countries will wish to secure what they have ordered and paid for. I respectfully disagree with maintaining older platforms. The last B-52 was built in 1963. Not only are they still flying but they are good for another 20-30 years. There are plenty of examples of old platforms that can be supported. The European Tiger users – France, Germany and Spain – will keep theirs flying until 2040, so the supply chains will be in place for a while.

  5. Just great, we are dumping a young airframe, to buy old design, last gen offerings, what a joke. To many Viper/ Apache movie fanboys. Typical of a government who couldn’t find value if there life depended on it. The Tiger is now a mature platform, performing “Above” expectation, but no, an axe to grind is all that matters. Dumb, just incredibly short sighted, who would have thought?.

  6. The main question for me is do we really need a tank killer like the Apache or an Armed Recon Helicopter like the Tiger?

    • Indeed. Army talk darkly of new threat scenarios. Tiger carries about the same weapon load as Apache, and has greater range. Apache has much heavier armor, which is why it is 4 tonnes heavier (10 tonnes v 6 tonnes). I have consistently been of the view that Tiger seems fine for Australian requirements – but Apache has had some very powerful boosters for a number of years.

      • Article in the magazine Australia & NZ Defender refers to the Tigers as “Ultra expensive and barely operational”
        Seems the lobbying is quite murky on this issue

        • There is a lot of misinformation being spread about Tiger that probably originates from the competition. Some people in Defence have also not distinguishing themselves by supplying misleading information to the ANAO about cost per flying hour of the Australian Tigers. As I have written elsewhere, there are some very powerful people in the system who are hellbent on acquiring Apaches, no matter the cost.

      • Regards from Spain. Over here the services’ only choice was the Apache. [True that the Navy, and thus also the Spanish Marines, are a priori more biased towards US hardware, probably due to their longer tradition of cooperation and integration in US Carrier Groups; aka frigates with Aegis.] They found the then existing Tiger versions too “feeble” in weapons and engines and finally conditioned their acceptance on a more powerful version, giving rise to the HAD version, also adopted by the French who changed their pending HAP orders to this version. From what I understand, doctrine of use is also different. Tiger it still is considered a recon/attack, despite its name it is envisioned to behave more like a solitary leopard; Apache is more brute force attack, as a lion pack with full air support and air denial to the enemy.

  7. So now another question is, why would one of the Tiger’s European operators apparently be so willing to give up a large portion of their fleet?

    • Because countries such as France and Germany are making greater use of militarised civilian platforms such as the H145M for some scenarios and that might free up a few Tigers.

      • You are correct. France is leading in EU the trend towards a “lower cost” Armed Forces with the militarization of civilian hardware, like the hélicoptère interarmées léger (HIL); the H145M you mentioned was initially considered although the bulk shall be of the larger H160M. Concern is ballistic protection is mainly on the floor, still much glass. Ditto in Land Systems, where not only further MBTs have been frozen, but VCRs (8×8 wheeled APC/IFV at a min of 4 million EUR each), are also going to be replaced with armoured transports like Griffon VBMR (Multi-Role Armoured Vehicles (6×6) aprox 800K EUR and Serval (4×4) 450K EUR within their Scorpion programme. The savings are clear! Similar programs in other armies: UK, US with Stryker brigades, Russia …

  8. Its been apparent to me for some time that we need a significant and substantial helicopter manufacturing capability in Australia, that would have its roots in the assembly in large volumes spread over a decade of low cost utility helicopters. Overtime the capability would expand to include locally manufactured components and and specialist airframes. The Japanese, by way of example, have long recognised the importance of sustaining an indigenous capability, which is how urgent requirements can be better addressed. An obvious parallel is with the OPV program,which is all about capability and which ironically, could benefit from the deployment of utility helicopters in some roles, and which would be quite separate to the SEA 129 Phase 5 drone program.

  9. If we move form the Tiger ARH to the Apache today, when would we realistically have an operational capability with this new platform?
    If dark scenario’s are on the near horizon, then an existing working capability in the existing Tiger certainly has appeal. If an additional seven units can be obtained quickly and Link 16 and other upgrades introduced in a timely fashion this would be my plan A
    If Airbus cannot deliver quickly, than Plan B with Apache would appear the way forward.

  10. 15 years of mediore delivery of capability will have that effect.
    While Australian soldiers were fighting in Afghanistan it was American Apaches that were supporting them. The Aussie Tiger was missing in action.
    Airbus promises to deliver an upgraded Tiger on time on budget… the reality is the ‘new’ Tiger would be as developmental as the MK1 Tiger was in 2005.
    If Ausrtralia wants an combat proven Attack Helicopter that delivers everything it wants, yesterday, then there is only one winner.

    • France deployed Tigers to Afghanistan in 2009, often operating in support of US forces. Until Apache was upgraded to Mk III standard the French 30mm cannon in particular was far more accurate – and those helicopters often flew overwatch missions for coalition convoys and patrols. What prevented Australia deploying Tiger were a lot of regulatory issues. A lot. The helicopters were fine.

    • Australia doesn’t want a combat proven attack helicopter. It wants an armed recon helicopter. Tiger is fine. Will you and the pro-Apache crowd be jumping up and down about salt-water corrosion on Apaches if they’re flown off the LHD’s or is that criticism reserved for just the Tigers?

  11. Yes France did deploy 3 aircraft to Afghanistan. But that is still not a capability.
    We need aircaft that is there when Australian soldiers need them. In combat a real helicopter capability is two aircraft on station able to detect, locate and kill the enemy as quickly and efficiently a possible. The Tiger while having all the parts of an Attack Helicopter really struggles with this task.

    While individual systems in isolation like the Cannon may be good. It is the aircraft as a whole that should be considered. Many articles fail to examine this and lazily focus on tabulated data. E.g. the Tiger has a 30mm gun like the Apache so it is the same league… Can the sight find the target for the gun, can the gun link to the radar, the EWS system or Hostile fire indicator? How quickly can it do it? One aircraft can do all this today and had done in combat over thousands of flight hours. The other has to fly over the enemy visually to find them. (Armed Reconnaissance…)

    So should we stick with Tiger and the promise of cost savings and delivery of future capabilities? I think we should not get sold on glossy brochures from salesman in pointy shoes again and get a real combat capability, now, today.

  12. “Defence officials admit the door on its Taipan helicopters is too narrow to allow covering fire as troops are rappelling from it.”
    How the hell do we get into situations like this?
    Are we buying kit sight unseen?
    Don’t we get to test something before we buy it?

    • I’m not familiar with this particular issue as the Taipans have been in service since 2010 and you would have thought someone would have noticed something with the door width before now – though I have seen the commentary in Senate Estimates. Who knows? Maybe Army’s requirements have changed, or there is a new mount for the machine gun, or our soldiers have become much fatter. It will be interesting to investigate whether any other MRH users have encountered this problem, or whether like Tiger it’s something unique to Australia. One of the attractive features of the Taipan is that it has a rear ramp and I guess the original idea was that it would land or hover very close to the ground rather than have people sliding down ropes from the side doors.

  13. I am all for maybe buying maybe Viper or Apache, but keeping the Tiger as well. It’s called “Depth” a range of mission capability, neither Viper or Apache is a forward mission troop support helicopter, let’s not kid ourselves. The battle field is rapidly changing because of drones and portable missiles. We are firing missiles costing huge amounts to kill one operative. The sheer cost of expensive helo launched platforms will be self defeating. Loitering munitions are the cheap and cheerful, weapon of choice on the new battlefield. There is no debate on the Karabakh – Nagarno battlefield hundreds of vehicles wiped out, “Cheaply”. Yes I said cheaply.

  14. Hearing the call has been made and the Apache is the chosen one.
    Tigers to be offered to France?Germany as spares?

    • The best course of action would be to keep the Tigers and operate them in parallel with the Apaches. As I keep writing, there is nothing wrong with the Tigers and they can be kept flying through to 2040 with good management.

      • 1.Would we have sufficient crew to do that?
        2. I see the ex head of the RAAF has said the Taipans and Tigers should be handed over to the RAAF to maintain and operate. Do you think that would improve matters?
        3. Are the issues with the Taipans and Tigers related to the machines themselves or is it a maintenance/support/spares issue?
        So many Chinese whispers on this one.

  15. More aircrew would be needed, but since Defence appears to be awash with cash that shouldn’t be an insurmountable hurdle. In retrospect, maintenance and support of the helicopters should always have remained with RAAF – and honest people in the Army accept that they have done a poor job with modern digital platforms such as Tiger and MRH. The problems appear to be with maintenance processes. There was a recent flurry of negative publicity about the machine gun door mount on the MRH for SF use – but my understanding is that SF have changed their mind a third time about what they want. People might be interested in my most recent article about Tiger, which shows the lengths some people in Army will go to:


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