THE AUSTRALIAN Army appears to be narrowing down its requirement for a future reconnaissance and fire-support helicopter to a tandem-seat attack-type design.

A major capabilities study, defining the Army's Air 87 requirements, is scheduled to be submitted in June to the Australian defence department's Force Structure and Policy Committee. A request for tenders is expected to follow in 1997, with a contract for up to 50 helicopters awarded the following year.

The project has been divided into two basic requirements, providing wide-area surveillance and reconnaissance/fire-support. The former mission will be fulfilled by a yet-to-be selected fixed-wing aircraft equipped with a synthetic-aperture radar, while a helicopter will be selected for the reconnaissance/fire-support requirement.

Consideration has been given to a wide range of different commercial and military helicopters, but attention is now focusing on a single multi-role type. "We need a middle-of-the-range specialist reconnaissance/attack helicopter," says a local defence source.

Helicopter crashworthiness and battlefield survivability have emerged as major military concerns. The Army is understood to favour a tandem-seat design, offering reduced radar signature and armed with slaved turret-mounted cannon for self-defence.

The helicopter would be equipped with a forward-looking infra-red (FLIR) imager, as well as closed-circuit television camera for battlefield reconnaissance.

Manufacturer interest in Project Air 87 has begun to intensify. Agusta has announced a provisional agreement with its A.129 Mangusta, while McDonnell Douglas, with its AH-64 Apache, Atlas of South Africa, with its CSH-2 Rooivalk, Bell, with the AH-1W, and the Eurocopter Tiger are all likely to compete.

Source: Flight International