Airbus launches Franco-Spanish “Tiger” helicopter upgrade program – with Germany to be determined

STUTTGART, Germany — Airbus has been granted permission to build new Tiger attack helicopters for the French and Spanish armies, while Germany’s participation remains to be seen.

The Organization for Joint Armaments Cooperation (OCCAR), NATO’s procurement arm, has signed a contract with the aerospace giant to advance the long-awaited upgrade program, Airbus announced in a statement. statement on Wednesday.

The Tiger MkIII program includes 60 aircraft in total, including 42 for the French army and 18 for Spain. France also has the possibility of tackling 25 other helicopters. The first flight is scheduled for 2025, with the first delivery of a French Tiger helicopter scheduled for 2029, with Madrid due to receive its first modernized aircraft in 2030. The work will be carried out at Airbus Helicopter’s facilities in Albacete, France; Marignane, France, and Donauwörth, Germany. The total value of the contract was not disclosed and OCCAR did not respond to requests for comment in a timely manner.

The contract also includes the option for Germany to join the program in the future. Bruno Even, chief executive of Airbus Helicopters, hinted in January that the contract might only include France and Spain to start, according to information from Flight Global. Airbus was “leaving the door open” for Germany to join, he said.

The German military is reportedly hesitant to procure the upgraded Tiger helicopter, amid concerns over the low operational readiness of its current fleet. Australia, which also flies the Tiger helicopter, announced in January 2021 that it would buy Boeing-made AH-64 Apaches to replace its Tigers, and Berlin may do the same.

Berlin does not have a deadline to register, an Airbus spokesperson told Defense News on Wednesday. Berlin has joined Madrid and Paris in signing a trilateral global support contract with Airbus via OCCAR. The spokesman declined to comment on why Germany is not participating from the outset, but confirmed that the Donauwörth facility would still be involved.

Thales, Safran and Indra are also involved in the Tiger upgrade program, which will allow the helicopter to perform a crewed team and offer a range of new weapons as well as detection and targeting capabilities. The standard configuration includes an avionics suite manufactured by Thales, a dual constellation satellite navigation system (GPS and Galileo), new helmet-mounted displays and radio and data links for the crewed team. Safran will supply its Strix NG targeting system, as well as an inertial navigation system, while Indra will supply new IFF transponders. The Tiger MkIII will be equipped with a gun turret, laser-guided rockets and missiles.

The French variant will also include the MBDA MAST-F (future air-to-surface tactical missile) and the Mistral 3 air-to-air missile, as well as a new battlefield management system by Atos and a self-protection system built by Thales . Indra provides the battlefield management system and countermeasures for Spain.

The Spanish Tiger will also feature new 70mm guided rockets as well as a new air-to-surface missile, as well as Link16 and SATCOM functionality.

Once delivered, the upgraded Tiger MkIII aircraft are expected to remain operational into the 2040s, industry officials say. Australia, France, Spain and Germany currently operate Tiger helicopters, which were first produced in 1991.

Vivienne Machi is a journalist based in Stuttgart, Germany, who contributes to Defense News’ European coverage. She previously worked for National Defense Magazine, Defense Daily, Via Satellite, Foreign Policy and the Dayton Daily News. She was named the Defense Media Awards’ Best Young Defense Journalist in 2020.

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