The French army is conducting a series of urgent modifications to its Eurocopter Tiger HAP attack helicopters, in advance of receiving an order to deploy the type operationally for the first time, to Afghanistan.

"We are waiting for formal initial operational capability status, and for a decision from the Joint Staff to deploy," says Lt Col Jean-Baptiste Pouret, the army's Tiger programme manager.

Enhancements to be made ahead of a combat deployment include the addition of improved air particle separators, rotor blade protection and secure communications equipment.

The aircraft will also receive additional ballistic protection for its pilots, a digital mission data recorder and combat external fuel tanks. The army has assessed but rejected adapting the Tiger's ferry tanks for the latter requirement, and is now seeking an off-the-shelf solution, says Pouret.

Environmental training for the Afghanistan deployment has already been conducted in Djibouti and in the French Alps at altitudes up to 5,000ft (1,520m), and the service has developed an immediate extraction technique that could see a downed pilot rescued by sitting on one of the Tiger's main wheels.

Eurocopter Tiger HAP
 © Eurocopter

Procedures to transport the Tiger in the Dassault-Breguet C160 Transall and Lockheed Martin C-130 have also been validated, and are being finalised for Antonov's An-124.

Separately, the army in January conducted a test campaign using six MBDA Mistral air-to-air missiles fired from Tigers against drone targets.

While declining to speculate on when a detachment could begin, Pouret suggests "the decision-makers could be encouraged by Le Bourget", referring to June's Paris air show. "The [French] land forces are waiting impatiently for it," he adds.

Speaking at IQPC's Military Helicopter conference in London, Pouret said the army will require technical assistance from deployed Eurocopter personnel, for example during the repair of damage caused by small arms fire.

France has logged more than 5,250 flight hours with its first 19 of 40 HAP-configured Tigers, based in Pau, Valence and at a joint French/German training school in Le Luc. The type had been expected to receive initial operational capability clearance in April, with full operational status to follow by late 2010, says Pouret.

Only four of France's current Tigers are in the Standard 1 configuration, which incorporates more than 270 modifications from the first Step 1 aircraft, delivered from April 2005. Its 15 older examples will be retrofitted to the operational configuration.

Eurocopter is meanwhile expected to perform the first flight of a multirole Tiger HAD for France in June using more powerful MTRI MTR390-E engines. The aircraft - the first of 40 on order for the French army - will begin firing trials with Lockheed's AGM-114 Hellfire air-to-surface missile from September, says Pouret.

Spain's army will also receive 24 6.6t Tiger HADs, including an interim batch of six HAP-configured aircraft that will later be modified to the enhanced standard.

Source: Flight International