Despite some solid progress over the past four years, the Australian Army’s Tiger Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter continues to attract its fair, some would say unfair, share of criticism. The ARH is undeniably late, seven years late as a matter of fact, and it still hasn’t reached the levels of availability and reliability that Army aspires to, despite being in service for almost 13 years. However, recent coordinated remediation efforts by Army, the Capability Acquisition and Sustainment Group (CASG) along with Defence industry continue to drive the project forward, to the point where Tiger’s cost of ownership has dropped by almost a third since 2012.
Final Operational Capability (FOC) was declared in April last year, albeit with some caveats that have now largely been resolved. Ongoing work continues to improve its capabilities, the helicopter continues to perform well on exercises and recently one Army Tiger achieved the milestone of two thousand flying hours – the highest of any Tiger helicopter, anywhere in the world.
These are all positive achievements, yet the ARH continues to attract the attention of critics. In last year’s Defence White Paper and Integrated Investment Programme, for example, it was the only platform singled out for criticism and the recent Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) seemingly focused heavily on the negative aspects of the programme. This perception has not been lost on competitors in industry either, as evidenced by the sponsored appearance of an AH-64E Apache at the recent Avalon Air Show, despite the fact that a Tiger replacement programme is not due to get underway for at least another five years.
So, what is the truth of its demise or resurgence? Is Tiger an endangered species? Is there an anti-Tiger sentiment within Government and/or Defence?
It’s a truism that the good news stories are not often highlighted in mainstream media, and few outside the Tiger programme would be aware of two successful weapons trials carried out over the past 12 months, which increase the helicopter’s lethality significantly.
The Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System (APKWS), a laser-guided seeker for Tiger’s existing Forges de Zeebrugge 70mm (2.75 inch) rockets, has added a precision kill capability to the previously unguided weapons. The system was adapted to the Tiger by a Defence/Industry team made up of Airbus Group Australia Pacific, BAE Systems, Army, DMO (now CASG) and the RAAF.