Airbus Helicopters remains confident that France will continue to back the multi-billion euro MkIII upgrade of the Tiger attack helicopter, despite media reports that Paris is seriously considering scaling back the programme due to budget constraints.
France this year is due to publish its next multi-year military planning law, or LPM, covering the period from 2024-2030 which was expected to contain a funding commitment for the MkIII upgrade.
However, reports in La Tribune have cast doubt on France’s commitment to the MkIII project – a joint effort with Spain – suggesting that Paris will scale back its ambitions.
Rather than a wholesale modernisation of the platform, a more modest programme, dubbed the MkII+, would instead be pursued, solely addressing obsolescence issues, the report says.
But Bruno Even, chief executive of Airbus Helicopters, says there is “no reason to think the programme is at risk” given that discussions surrounding the LPM have confirmed “the need to have the Tiger flying beyond 2045”.
“And from that perspective the upgrade of the Tiger is the answer to this request,” he said during a 25 January media briefing.
But Even acknowledges that the LPM may seek to “adapt and transform the model of the [armed] forces”, potentially leading to changes in the requirements for the Tiger MkIII.
“We remain fully available and fully committed to identify any new opportunities to optimise this programme update,” he says.
“We are available for discussions, but we don’t see a risk for the future of this upgrade in the context where the need to continue to operate the Tiger beyond 2045 is confirmed.”
France and Spain in March 2022 launched the Tiger MkIII programme, with a first flight anticipated in 2025.
Under its current scope, Spain will take 18 Tiger MkIIIs, from a current inventory of 23, while France will upgrade 42 of its 69-strong fleet to the new standard, with options covering another 25 airframes.
Deliveries to France are scheduled to begin in 2029, while Spain should take its lead example in 2030.
Upgrades to the current standard include new air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons, modernised avionics and enhanced connectivity.
However, despite the commitment from France and Spain, the programme was originally envisaged as a tri-national project also including Germany.
Berlin has yet to decide on the future of its 55-strong Tiger UHT fleet, but Even says the company “remains ready at any time to onboard Germany” if it decides to participate in the MkIII upgrade.
“We have not yet received an official position of Germany so we are still waiting for this formal decision,” he says.
Germany has previously indicated an interest in the Boeing AH-64E Apache as an alternative to the Tiger.