The article below is a summary of one written in French by David Colliquet and Cyril Gourd published in the armament engineers’ magazine n° 109 (http://www.caia.net/page/517/la-revue)
The Tiger has already had an exemplary operational career with more than 10,000 flight hours on foreign missions of which almost 8,500 totted up by the French machines alone. What lessons can be learnt from the special story of this fantastic combat helicopter, a symbol of Franco-German partnership?
The strong link between the Tiger and Franco-German cooperation is undeniable, and this right from the initial stages of design in the middle of the 1970s. The story of the Tiger proves that it takes a couple of politically close partners to weather the storms that will inevitably perturb any ambitious and complex military procurement programme. The state and the industrial actors involved in the programme have always felt the weight of the Franco-German partnership. The symbols are numerous, such as the bilateral pilot training and maintenance schools in France and Germany respectively. Sometimes seen as a stick in the works of the programme, the “founding kernel” actually turned out to be a stabilising force during difficult moments. For example, during the final qualification in 2008 when France was pushing to finalise development so that the helicopter could be deployed to Afghanisan, the Germans were reticent. But the German partner was able to get over its internal disputes in order not to block France.
More recently, during Australia’s integration into the mid-life upgrade (Tiger Mk3) which caused a zone of strong turbulence, the Franco-German bedrock enabled the “cooperation pendulum” to stabilise and to continue with the modernisation necessary to meet future operational challenges. For embryonic programmes tempted by the widest possible cooperation, the example of the Tiger serves as a reminder that there must be a small kernel of solid partners in order to ensure the perennity of the programme.
The principal element of instability in a cooperation programme is the decision-making process which is too often placed under the seal of unanimity. Thus, even when led by a strong duo, a programme can be slowed down when it comes to taking decisions, and these hold-ups in fine trickle down to new users in the form of delays in operational capabilities. Similarly, seeking communality at all costs between the different national variants to ensure that development costs are shared and to optimise the costs of maintenance in the future, translates into technical, financial and calendar harmonisation phases between the partner nations leading to additional delays which can legitimately frustrate the final users.
Just like in a hypserstatic mechanical system, the introduction of degrees of freedom – for example the acceptance of national specificities as to the choice of certain systems – in a military programme is a guarantee of stability, mobility and flexibility for the future. Indeed, even if the German and French versions of the Tiger are very different where their weapon systems are concerned, they nevertheless share a very broad common base that represents more than half the maintenance costs. But these differences, as long as they are not excessive, leave the field clear for national developments linked to the weapons system and reduce potential tension between partners.