The French Army is confident its new Eurocopter EC-665 Tiger attack helicopters will be declared operational and mission-ready by the start of next year. The first four machines entered service with the ALAT (Aviation Légére de l’Armée de Terre/French Army Aviation) 5th Combat Helicopter Regiment at Pau in southwest France last November and crews are now working on developing the concept of operations (ConOps) for these new aircraft.
The first helicopter was delivered to the joint Franco-German Eurocopter Tiger training school at Le Luc in southeast France on March 18, 2005. Since then, the first cadre of French and German Tiger crewmembers and instructors have been training on the helicopter.
The first French aircraft was delivered in HAP (Hélicoptère d’Appui et de Protection) configuration for close air support and armed escort. This aircraft had the full compliment of capabilities, including the GIAT 1.1-inch (30 mm) cannon and 2.6-inch (68 mm) rockets. Fire control systems including the Sagem Strix roof-mounted site and Thales TopOwl Helmet-Mounted Display (HMD) were also installed on this aircraft. In fact, the only two capabilities missing were the Mistral air-to-air and AGM-114 Hellfire II Air-to-Ground Missiles (AGM). The ALAT will eventually receive 80 machines; all of which will be configured to fire both the Mistral and Hellfire.
Few would argue that the helicopter has an impressive array of weapons and avionics, including the VDO Luftfahrtgerate Werk GmbH and Thales Avionique multi-function displays that dominate each cockpit. But for those working with the helicopters and training new students at Le Luc, such as Lt. Col. Sven Degen, a Tiger instructor pilot with the Heeresfliegerstruppe (German Army Aviators’ Corps, or GAAC), the modern cockpit brings new challenges.
"The most challenging thing to deal with is the information flow," Degen said. "The information you got in the cockpit of older helicopter was very easy to handle. Now we’ve got so many more possibilities."
Degen’s thoughts are echoed by Capt. Thierry Hartmann, an ALAT instructor pilot also based at Le Luc. "For the first time, we are using three different weapons systems (gun, air-to-ground and air-to-air weapons)," Hartmann said. "In the past, we only had one weapons system (the HOT anti-tank missile) on the Aerospatiale SA-342M Gazelle, so the Tiger workload can be very high. It’s very important that the pilot and the weapons systems officer communicate their actions with each other, but to practice this, we have a lot of systems — Computer-Aided Training (CAT) and Full Mission Simulators (FMS), for example. So we can train on the simulator before we go on a real flight and this is something new and different."
For the French and Germans alike, the capabilities of the Tiger, in terms of weapons and avionics, represents a step change.
"Up to now, we had weapons systems which for both nations were relatively easy to handle. Now, the Tiger itself is easy to handle, but the workload can be very, very high," Degen said. "Therefore, there’s a bigger need for training. You have to manage several different weapons and you have to manage other workloads in the helicopter."
One major change for both the French and German crews is the extent to which the helicopter can share and receive information with ground troops, other aircraft and vehicles, thanks to a suite of radios, including the Thales TRC9600 VHF, TRA6032 Very/Ultra High Frequency (V/UHF), TRA2020 V/UHF and standard FM systems. Over the next five-to-10 years, the ALAT machines will also receive a data link to communicate with the French Army’s Bulle Operationnelle Aéroterrestre (Air-Land networked warfare system), while the German machines will be connected to the army’s FuInfoSys-H digital command and control network. Both countries’ Tigers will also receive the Sagem SATEL integral communications and navigation system, which will house a Link-16 compatible Multifunctional Information Distribution System (MIDS) allowing the helicopters to share information with other Link-16 equipped aircraft, a vitally important addition for when the Tigers participate in NATO exercises and operations.
The Franco-German training school, known as the Ecole France-Allemande (EFA), was established in 2003 at Le Luc to train those who will fly and work with the Tiger. The EFA is tasked with training not only the Tiger crewmembers, who will be cross-trained as pilots and weapons systems officers, but also the Tiger crew commanders and section leaders. Spain uses part of the school and will also train its crews on simulators and Cockpit Procedure Trainers to be installed at the Tiger’s main FAMET operating bases. The Australian Army, meanwhile, will raise its Tiger training facility at Oakey Army Aviation Center in Queensland, northeast Australia.
The rationale behind the EFA is not only to get crews qualified on the aircraft, but also to ensure that they get the most of an aircraft that is a generational jump from the SA-342M and the BO-105P/PAH-1/A1 currently used by the ALAT and the GAAC, respectively.
The differences in the configuration of the German and French aircraft will have a knock-on effect for the methodology and organization of the training effort.
"The main differences are in the helicopter’s procedures, because these are not the same for the French and for the Germans because of the different weapons systems that are used. For example, firing procedures are not the same," said Hartmann.
The net effect is that while the French and German armies train on the Tiger at the same school, there is no common course for the Germans and the French and, for now, each country trains its own crews exclusively.
For example, French pilots perform 45 hours of ground school followed by 79 hours of Computer-Assisted Training, 49 hours in the CPT and 56 hours on the FMS. They then accumulate 40 hours of flying to complete the pilot’s course.
One key difference with the German course is that they accumulate 32 hours on the FMS for the section leader’s course, compared to France’s 10-hour FMS requirement for this course. However, unlike the French, the Germans have yet to deploy their Tigers with a GAAC army regiment.
The cross-training of crew members for the Tiger is imperative given the increase in weapons systems compared to legacy helicopters such as the Gazelle and BO-105 and also because of the high level of situational awareness provided by the aircraft’s Strix and Osiris sensors. As with all attack helicopters, coordination is a must if the crew are to get the most out of their aircraft.
Once the French crews complete their training they join the 5th CHR at Pau, where they will accumulate a further 1,000 flying hours learning the Tiger’s combat tactics before returning to Le Luc to complete the crew commander’s course. The regiment, which has received four machines and which will receive a further eight Tigers this year, is currently developing the ConOps and tactical procedures for the helicopter to perform its CAS, reconnaissance and escort missions. This will allow the helicopter to be declared combat-ready by the end of the year. After that, the Tigers could find themselves at war and it is widely thought within the ALAT that the helicopter’s first deployment will be to Afghanistan, following in the footsteps of its AgustaWestland WAH-64 Apache AH Mk.1 flying colleagues in the British Army. The latter had their first taste of combat on May 22, 2006, ironically in destroying a French Army vehicle to prevent it falling into Taliban hands.
The crews in Pau "are performing tactical experimentation and developing the operational procedures to be combat ready, we hope, by the end of this year or maybe the beginning of next year," Hartmann said. "For now, the crews only learn the basics at Le Luc and very few tactical aspects. We hope to include the tactical procedures developed at Pau in the future."
For the German students, the simulators provide an opportunity to train with the Tiger weapons systems.
"With the FMS, we are able to simulate the whole firing procedure with all the weapons and that’s what we are doing, but without any tactical scenario, just the basic skills of using the helicopter as a weapons system without ground support and without communications. That is something that will be done at the regiment," Degen said. "Our German regiment is not yet equipped with the UHT, but the first unit will be the 36th ‘Kurhessen’ Army Aviation Attack Helicopter Regiment based at Fritzlar, central Germany. Once this unit has their own Tigers, they will perform additional tactical training."
The German army’s previous experience with its BO-105s means that "we’re not inventing whole techniques anew. We have old tactics with a new weapons system. One of the goals of the 36th Regiment is the development of existing engagement principles," Degen said.
Although the Tiger has entered service with the ALAT, its evolution continues. As well as receiving the SATEL system, the aircraft will be retrofitted to HAD fire-support and assault status. In principle, this means the installation of the Rolls-Royce/Turboméca/MTU MTR-390E engine that will equip the Spanish HAD aircraft and provide a 14-percent power increase from the existing MTR-390 1,170 shp (873 kW) engines on the HAP/UHT machines. The French will upgrade all of its HAP aircraft to HAD status with new powerplants as they enter service over the next five years.
As of last year, the ALAT joined their Australian colleagues in selecting the AGM-114 Hellfire II missile. The missiles will be fully integrated onto the French fleet by 2012. Hellfire had been in the running to equip the Spanish machines, but in June 2006 the Spanish Army selected the Rafael Spike-ER AGMs instead.
In autumn 2007, the FAMET received the first of its Tigers, which were delivered to Almagro, in central Spain. This aircraft was the first of four Tigers the FAMET has obtained in HAP configuration. In addition, eight FAMET pilots and 18 technicians have received training on the aircraft at the EFA. These four machines are the vanguard of a further 18 models that will arrive. However, later versions will be delivered in HAD configuration with the engine upgrade.
There is little word on when the German UHT machines will formally enter operational service. "We don’t know exactly when they will enter service," said Degen. "We have a plan and we are trying to get the helicopter operational with our crews as soon as possible. We are a little bit late concerning our program because we have had some problems with the whole development of the helicopter. I can’t give you a detailed date as to when they will be operational."
Despite the separate training courses at Le Luc, Degen is confident these could be harmonized in the future. "When the national procedures are established with a rigid base, we can start to talk and to think about common procedures and perhaps even mixed courses, but this is in the future," he said.
Information will be flowing back on the ConOps tactical development of the helicopter at Pau to the EFA and this will no doubt be supplemented with similar information from the Australians and Spanish as their machines enter service. The array of weapons and cockpit systems that have been rolled out across the Tiger platform gives its customers impressive capabilities, but the hard work of training crews on this complex aircraft and developing its tactical application has only just begun.
In addition to France and Germany, two additional countries — Spain and Australia — have purchased the Tiger. A sale of the helicopter to Saudi Arabia also seemed likely.
Relatively few differences exist across the national types, however, the German UHT (Unterstützunghubschrauber Tiger) anti-tank helicopters carry the AIM-92A Stinger air-to-air missile in place of the Mistral and have an 0.5-inch (12.7-mm) gun instead of a cannon, along with both HOT-3 and Trigat-LR AGMs. French and Spanish aircraft carry the AGM-114 Hellfire weapon for this role as an alternative.
In addition, the German aircraft use BAE Systems’ Knighthelm HMD system and a Sagem Osiris mast-mounted sight in place of the Thales TopOwl and Strix systems.
Australian aircraft use a locally-developed, ADI Ltd. HMD system. Meanwhile, the Spanish helicopters to be operated by the Fuerzas Aeromóviles del Ejército de Tierra (FAMET/Spanish Army Air Mobile Force) have an EADS Deutschland AN/AAR-60 Missile Launch Detection System (MILDS) radar, laser and approach warning system, MBDA SAPHIR-M chaff and flare dispenser and an Indra Airborne Electronic Warfare system. — Thomas Withington