France recently received the first of 40 of the ground support (HAD) version of the Tiger helicopter gunship. Five years ago the German Army received its first Tiger HAD. This version of Tiger first entered service eight years ago. The HAD version has 14 percent more engine power and better protection from ground fire than the original model. While earlier versions were mainly for anti-vehicle work, HAD is more like the current U.S. AH-64 Apache and optimized for ground support. Development of Tiger began in 1987, before the Cold War ended. So the anti-tank aspect took a while to disappear and get replaced by a gunship optimized for hunting and killing a large variety of targets.
Tiger is made by European firm Eurocopter and has shown up just in time. Until the arrival of the French and German Tigers, American AH-64s provided gunship support for all foreign troops in Afghanistan. France also has some Tigers in Somalia, and Mali, where they have performed well. Tiger has spent over 1,500 flight hours in combat zones so far and a hundred have been delivered to Germany, France (which has ordered 80), Spain (24), and Australia (22). A total of 206 Tiger helicopters have been ordered. So far Tigers have spent over 45,000 hours in the air, most of it for training.
The Tiger costs about as much as the AH-64, a ten ton gunship that has been in service since the 1980s. The six ton Tiger has a crew of two and a max speed of 280 kilometers an hour. It cruises at 230 kilometers an hour and usually stays in the air about three hours per sortie. It is armed with a 30mm automatic cannon, 70mm rocket pods (19 rockets per pod), and various types of air-to-ground missiles (eight Hellfire types at once). It can also carry four Mistral anti-aircraft missiles.
Germany appears to have lost its enthusiasm for Tiger and is cutting its order from 80 to 57. Germany has had a lot of problems with Tiger during the last few years. Besides, Germany has better uses for the money, like bailing out the many European nations having financial problems.
It was only last year that Germany got four of its new Tiger helicopter gunships ready for service in Afghanistan. These ASGARD (Afghanistan Stabilization German Army Rapid Deployment) models included sand filters, additional defense systems, a mission data recorder, and communications gear able to deal with systems used by allies. Four more ASGARD Tigers are being prepared. The first four are now in Afghanistan. But all Tigers were grounded on March 4th, after one of them crashed and burned during a training accident in Germany. This is the third Tiger to crash so far, although none of the six crewmen involved were killed.
German troops in Afghanistan wanted this aircraft badly but delivery was delayed several times due to various problems. In addition to the ASGARD upgrades, there were problems with the wiring and a number of less serious shortcomings as well.