Warplanes: Tiger Gets A Vote Of No Confidence

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March 8, 2016: In early 2016 Australia announced that it was giving up on its 22 Tiger helicopter gunships which, since 2004 (when the first one arrived in Australia), never become fully ready for combat. That’s one reason why none of the Australian Tigers were sent to Afghanistan even though other nations with Tigers (Germany, France and Spain) did. These three nations also had problems with their Tigers but in Australia it was worse in part because it took so long to ship spare parts and upgrades halfway around the world.

The decision to get rid of the Tigers was reached, in part, because it was realized that Australia has had a much better experience with American aircraft and is looking in that direction for a new recon helicopter (like an AH-6 variant) and more heavy transport choppers (like the CH-47). The Tigers will be sold off to nations who are more impressed with the satisfied Tiger users. Australia expects this process to take five years or more.

There are indeed satisfied Tiger users. For example in December 2015 France ordered another seven of them. This came a year after budget cuts forced the military to reduce its planned Tiger force from 80 helicopters to 60. Now there will be 67, mainly because Tiger is more frequently and heavily used (and much appreciated) in Africa (Mali) and the Middle East. The seven additional Tigers are the ground support (HAD) version and will be delivered in 2017 and 2018. These will replace combat losses and lessen the wear and tear on the existing sixty French Tigers.

It was in 2013 that France received the first of its 40 HAD Tiger helicopter gunships. The German Army received its first HAD Tigers in 2008. HAD first entered service in 2005 and benefitted from 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 and irregular warfare. 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 showed 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 has used Tigers in Somalia and Mali as well as Afghanistan where they have performed well. Tiger has spent nearly 2,000 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 also cut its order from 80 Tigers to 57. Germany had a lot of problems with Tiger and decided it had better uses for the money, like bailing out the many European nations having financial problems after 2008. In 2012 Germany got four of its new Tiger helicopter gunships ready for service in Afghanistan and these arrived in 2013. 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. In the years before the German Tigers arrived in Afghanistan there were four crashes during training. No one was injured but in some cases the causes were traced to equipment problems not operator error. German troops in Afghanistan wanted Tiger 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. When Tiger finally made it to Afghanistan it performed very well and got high marks from the German troops there. French troops had the same reaction to Tiger. So it appears after the usual initial problems Tiger has become mature and much more reliable, but not for everyone.

 


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