Information published by the Australian National Audit Office and reported by FOB in February was accurate then: Australia’s Tiger helicopters will indeed be fully operational in 2016. Eleven years after the first helicopter entered service, the 22 Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter (ARH) Tigers finally reached final operating capability (FOC) on 18 April, according to the monthly Australian Aviation. “Tiger is ready to go as a full operational capability with a full regiment of two squadrons,” confirmed Commander 16 Aviation Brigade, Brigadier Michael Prictor.
This announcement could dampen some of the criticism levied at this project over the past few years and the recent announcement that the Tiger would be withdrawn from 2020. Because even if “work remains” according to Tony Fraser, Airbus Group Australia Pacific managing director, the cost per flight hour has dropped 30% between 2014 and 2016, whilst availability has risen 40% over the same period and is now approaching the 4,800 flight hours hoped for in 2016.
Apart from better availability, Canberra has pledged to release between €300M and €500M to ensure the Tiger reaches fully mature capability so that it can complete its missions for at least the next decade. Amongst other improvements underway, the Australian Department of Defence and industry seem to be on the verge of finding a solution to the problem of networking the Tiger ARH, which operates using the EuroGrid battlefield management system. Australia is currently studying a number of options for this programme launched in 2014 with a €12.8M budget, including a new data link proposed by Elbit Systems Australia. The Tiger is also about to conduct flightdeck handling trials on the Navy LHD amphibious assault ship HMAS Adelaide, followed by LHD first of class flight trials in early 2017.
Australia is continuing discussions with its French, Spanish and German partners concerning future joint improvements. According to Fraser, the question of modernising the Tiger to a Mark III standard is now entirely in the hands of the Australian government.