Airbus Helicopters will use three prototypes for its Tiger MkIII upgrade programme for France and Spain as development work begins in earnest following contract signature with procurement body OCCAR in March.
First flight of the modernised attack helicopter will take place in 2025, using a donated customer airframe, followed by an additional pair of flight-test assets, also sourced from customers, says Victor Gerin-Roze, head of the Tiger MkIII programme.
The qualification phase will lead to receipt of the initial example by France in 2029 and Spain in 2030, says Gerin-Roze, and deliveries are likely to run until the mid-2030s.
Spain will take 18 updated MkIII Tigers, from a curent inventory of 23, while France will upgrade 42 of its 69-strong fleet to the new standard, with options covering another 25 airframes. In addition, Germany, which operates 55 Tiger UHTs, has yet to join the programme.
Although those additional airframes will extend the overall programme duration, Gerin-Roze believes the impact of the increased volumes will be “limited”.
“We will adapt our production capacity. The idea is to minimise the retrofit duration – we will not pile up the aircraft.”
Originally envisaged as a trinational programme, Germany has until mid-2022 to decide on its participation, although it will still be able to join at a later date, albeit under slightly different terms, Gerin-Roze adds.
Underpinning the MkIII upgrade is the idea of a common standard between the three partner nations. Although certain differences in configuration remain – Germany’s Tigers will retain their mast-mounted electro-optical sensor, for example – the “common backbone” between the helicopters means it is just an “integration issue”.
Similarly, the weapons available under the MkIII programme vary from operator to operator: France will equip its helicopters with the MBDA MHT air-to-surface missile, while Spain will likely use the Rafael’s Spike ER2 munition.
Both nations will also gain laser-guided rockets from an undisclosed supplier, says Gerin-Roze, plus an enhanced chin-mounted gun and an “upgraded” version of the MBDA Mistral 3 air-to-air missile.
Other improvements include new avionics, a FlytX full glass cockpit and TopOwl helmet from Thales, enhanced communications and connectivity, a new electro-optical sensor – Safran’s Euroflir 510 – and an improved countermeasures system.
Additionally, the Tiger MkIII will be able to team with unmanned assets, although the level of interoperability has not been revealed.