Optimism is rising as the Franco-German Tiger is prepared for production
Morale has improved considerably at Eurocopter's Tiger programme office since the signature of the production-investment contract (PIC) at the Paris air show on 20 June. The event laid to rest last-minute doubts about the commitment of both partners (France and Germany) to building Europe's first purpose-designed anti-tank/combat- support helicopter.
With elements of the programme now running up to five years later than originally planned, the relief is hardly surprising. "Our day-to-day business has taken on a new energy," says the manager for the German half of the programme, Wilfried Kuckein. "Now, at last, we can start planning for tooling, procedures, logistics and all of the other things that are needed for production."
The next stage, due in November, is the signing of the government-to-government memorandum of understanding for series production of the first 160 Tigers, leading to a contract in mid-1998 - "hopefully at the Berlin air show", says Kuckein.
Deliveries will then begin in mid-2001, beginning with the multi-role UH-Tiger for Germany, followed two years later by the first HAP escort-support machine for France. The PIC calls for a total of 80 UHTs, 70 HAPs, and ten French HACanti-tank versions, although budget problems have delayed delivery of the first HAC variant until 2011.
In December 1996, both Governments re-confirmed their initial requirements for a total of 427 Tigers (212 German and 215 French, the latter divided between 115 escort-support and 100 anti-tank versions), but doubt remains about whether the total number will ever be delivered - especially since the planned delivery of the last French HAC machine has been delayed until 2025. "The figure of 427 is the baseline for our pricing calculations," says Kuckein, who adds that there will be clauses in the production contracts if the figures change, and that these clauses will provide for penalties if the continuity of production is interrupted.
The seemingly endless production programme does not bother Kuckein. "We are very busy and, with hopes for significant export orders, we expect to remain so."
He says that production will be divided more or less evenly between France and Germany, with the German line based at Donauwörth, and the French line based in the Eurocopter plant at Marignane, near Marseille. Kuckein insists that there is "only a minimum cost penalty" from having two production lines instead of one "-because of the modular way in which helicopters are built". He points out that costs will be minimised by the way in which the programme is structured, with all three national versions based around a common airframe, to which specific elements are added. Each country will be responsible, at least initially, for building its own versions - an important political point which, notes Kuckein, "-simplified the search for a PIC agreement".
Part of the memorandum of understanding now being negotiated will centre on the so-called "fourth amendment", which provides for the latest changes in customer specifications. They include, for example, the 1992 decision to replace the original anti-tank/limited air-to-air PAH-2 version required by Germany before the end of the Cold War with the more flexible, multi-role UH-Tiger, capable of anti-tank, escort support, air-to-air, air-to-ground and reconnaissance missions. This resulted in the change from a monocular to binocular helmet-mounted display, the addition of rockets, guns, external fuel tanks and electronic countermeasures (ECM), all of which are still to be negotiated for development and production.
Other items include radios for French and German machines and the Eurogrid moving-map display, which, along with the ECM system, is now the same as that being supplied for the NH90 transport helicopter under development by France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands. "We expect to finish the process by November," says Kuckein.
The Tiger development programme is now around 80% complete, with more than 1,750h flight testing, the vehicle design frozen and qualification of the structure almost finished. Development flight tests of the basic avionics have been completed.
There are five prototypes in the test campaign. The first, PT1, has now finished its development life. The PT2 and the PT4 are dedicated to the HAP(combat-support) weapon system, while the PT3 and the PT5 are for the UH-Tiger and HAC programmes.
In terms of performance and operability, the Tiger has passed all stages without difficulty. A series of cold-weather trials in Sweden included tests to ensure that ground resonance was within limits when operating from snow-covered landing zones, along with cold soak start-up and flame-out trials. Weapon-systems tests included surface and airborne gun firings at -20íC, along with Mistral air-to-air missile firings (from a Eurocopter BO105 belonging to the Swedish army) and evaluation of the helmet-mounted sight and night-vision system.
Just before the Paris air show, the German PT5 underwent firing trials with Stinger air-to-air missiles and HOT anti-tank missiles. On 24 July, the first slug (motor only) firing of the Trigat fire-and-forget anti-tank missile under development by France, Germany and the UK was carried out from Eurocopter's Panther test aircraft. This followed a ground-based firing a year ago in the UK, and foreshadows the first fully guided airborne trial at the end of this year. This is an all-important trial, since the Trigat, with its high-rate-of-fire multi-target capability, is at the core of the HAC and UH-Tiger weapons systems. "So far, the weapon looks good," says Kuckein, "but we're looking forward to proving the system can do what is claimed for it."
During the Mistral firing in June, the missile hit a target drone 4,000m (13,000ft) away, flying at 100kt (180km/h) at a 30 degrees off-boresight angle, while a series of HOT tests in the same month proved the capabilities of the Osiris mast-mounted sight. Ground and in-flight trials of the turreted gun slaved to the roof-mounted sight have also been carried out, demonstrating the automatic flight-control system's ability to react rapidly to the gun recoil and maintain a stable weapons platform.
Radar-detectability tests were performed with the PT2 in June 1996. "We showed the Tiger has a very low radar cross-section from the frontal sector," says Kuckein. Inclined airframe surfaces and avoidance of resonant cavities have helped reduce the signature to a minimum, he says. Further trials have shown that the helicopter's infra-red detectability is "-much lower than that of the [McDonnell Douglas AH-64] Apache".
Yet another test series has demonstrated the ability of the Tiger's electrical and electronic systems to withstand high-intensity radiated electromagnetic fields, such as those following a nuclear explosion. Severe lightning strikes with an intensity of 200,000A - such as would be found in the most violent thunderstorms - have been simulated with no ill effects.
Much of the Tiger's capability will come from the technology which provides for the pilot-helicopter interface, particularly the helmet-mounted displays. Kuckein says that the GEC-supplied display for the German UH-Tiger is "performing very well", although he adds that the device does not yet meet weight and centre of gravity specifications.
Thoughts are turning now towards Tiger crew training. The partners are considering setting up a joint training school at Le Luc, France, in 2001, which would be able to process 200 pilots up to the year 2006. Tenders are also due to be issued for a full-mission simulator, with development starting in 1998 for delivery in 2001.
There seems little doubt that the programme now has the fullest support from the two Governments. At the Paris air show, German defence minister Volke Rühe said that "-in future military engagements, the helicopter will carry out a fundamental role-to that end we must give our forces the best technology available. The Tiger represents that level". His French counterpart Alain Richard repeats that such programmes Ìt exactly into the Government's strategy to aim for combined Franco-German forces. He insists that, industrially, such co-operative programmes "-are the best way to stand up to US competition".
The Tiger still needs to be proven in international competitions, however. "We're very busy on the Turkish requirement,"says Kuckein. A decision is due in 1999, with the battle being fought as much on industrial grounds as on performance, with Turkey looking to establish competence to design, develop and produce helicopters. "They want effectively to buy the entire programme," says Kuckein.
Australia and Spain are expected to issue requests for proposals at the end of this year, while Sweden has a requirement for around 20 machines - but not until the end of the century.
Kuckein accepts that the Tiger had a poor start in the export race, following decisions by the Netherlands and the UK in favour of the AH-64D Longbow Apache. He point outs, however, that with man-machine-interface technology "-at least as advanced as that of the US[Boeing Sikorsky] Comanche", and with the Apache getting near the end of its development life, "I am convinced that our machine will become the standard against which others are measured."