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Saturday, August 1, 2009

Program Insider: Australia to Upgrade Tigers

Australia’s latest defence capability plan (DCP), released July 1, reveals plans to upgrade or replace three types of helicopters in service with the country’s Defence Force (ADF). In particular, it looks at modernizing the mission equipment to its Eurocopter Tiger fleet, "to ensure the Australian Tigers retain currency with operational requirements." The new DCP predicts a "new phase — or phases — to maintain the effectiveness of the capability. This project is expected to provide system upgrades to the Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter (ARH), consistent with the parent Franco-German Tiger program.

"The upgrades may include weapons, engines, software, aircraft mission management system and ground support system upgrades." The package is expected to cost between A$100 million and A$500 million ($80m to $400m). The DCP says that "Defense will commence work on developing this phase for government consideration after 2016." Last month the Australian DoD flagged more specific modifications to the Tigers, to improve their interoperability with the army’s battlefield command-and-control system. DoD officials told Australian Senate defense budget hearings that the modifications include improved data-linking, to support transfer of targeting and situational awareness.

Australia remains in the delivery phase for its Tiger fleet. Twelve ARHs are currently in service with six more under assembly, at Australian Aerospace at Brisbane, and four more to come. Two squadrons, the 161st and 162nd, have been formed at Darwin as part of the Army’s new ARH regiment.

If, as widely predicted, France sends some of its own Hélicoptère d’Appui Protection (HAP)-variant Tigers to Afghanistan, Australia is expected to send at least one observer to join them. If the political decision is taken, an initial three aircraft from the ALAT (Aviation Légère de l’Armée de Terre) 4th Airmobile Brigade will be dispatched.

The HAP combat support Tiger is said to be "technically and operationally" ready for deployment, with two years of operational training with the elite 4th Brigade under its belt. The DCP also sets Initial Operational Capability (IOC) dates for new Royal Australian Navy (RAN) Seahawks and F-model Chinooks for the Army. Australia wants to achieve IOC with its replacement Seahawks for both the cancelled Kaman SH-2G (A) Seasprite and existing S-70B-2 fleets between 2014 and 2016. First pass approval (initial agreement) to procure 24 Sikorsky MH-60Rs is scheduled for between now and mid-2011. Second pass — formal acquisition approvals — should happen between mid-2010 and mid-2012.

The new aircraft will replace RAN’s 16 existing Seahawks, which are scheduled to be withdrawn from service by 2019. The acquisition is forecast to cost between A$500 million and A$1.5 billion ($400m to $1.2bn). The Army will not achieve IOC with its seven new Boeing CH-47F Chinooks before 2016. In the meantime, it plans to issue tenders later this year for a deeper maintenance support capability for its six existing CH-47D aircraft. The DCP says that government approvals to proceed with the CH-47F acquisition may not occur until mid-2012. This is despite Australia lodging a $560-million Foreign Military Sales (FMS) acquisition application for the aircraft with the U.S. DoD in April.

While FMS remains the planned purchase mechanism, the DCP says that the Australian industry is expected to realize work opportunities on the new aircraft through "design and fitment of additional mission equipment to the CH-47F, once they are delivered to Australia."

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