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Australia lays out plans for new attack helicopters

The Australian Department of Defence has issued a request for information (RFI) related to a future acquisition of up to 29 attack helicopters to replace the army's 22 Airbus Helicopters Tigers.

The RFI was issued under the auspices of Canberra's LAND4503 requirement. It foresees deliveries commencing in the mid-2020s.

Initial Operational Capability (IOC) with a squadron of 12 helicopters is planned for Australia's 2025-2026 fiscal year, with Final Operational Capability (FOC) of up to 29 examples due in 2028-2029. Of the 29 helicopters, five would be located separately and used for training.

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The Tiger lands on the HMAS Canberra

Commonwealth of Australia

Bell confirms that it will respond with the AH-1Z attack helicopter.

Airbus Helicopters has also confirmed its interest: "Airbus is fully committed to keeping Tiger in service in Australia, well beyond 2025 which is the timeframe in the recent [through-life support] contract extension. We are confident that we can offer a cost effective modernisation of the platform to take it through to the 2040s."

Boeing will reply with information about the AH-64E Apache.

"Boeing will be providing information on the AH-64E Apache in response to the recently released Request for Information," says the US manufacturer. "The Boeing AH-64E Apache is an affordable, proven and low-risk platform that meets or exceeds the Commonwealth of Australia’s capability requirements under the LAND4503 program."

The RFI stresses that the helicopter be a mature platform, thereby reducing programme risk, with the three primary missions being reconnaissance, attack, and security. It places a strong emphasis on areas such as expeditionary capability, specifically the ability to operate from ships, its ability to communicate with other assets, and interoperability with unmanned systems.

Canberra will require the ability to engage land, surface and air targets, both with "kinetic and non-kinetic" weapons, as well as the ability to deploy rapidly if necessary, using both air and sea lift.

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The Bell AH-1Z

US Marine Corps

The helicopter will also need to operate from Australia's amphibious assault ships, the HMAS Adelaide and HMAS Canberra, for extended periods of time. Canberra specifically asks for features that enable the helicopter to be stored and maintained aboard a ship, as well as design features that support amphibious operations.

Canberra's ambitions for deploying army helicopters aboard ships was highlighted by the recent deployment of four Tigers aboard the Canberra during a recent deployment in Southeast Asia.

The LAND4503 is the second of two major helicopter acquisitions Canberra has underway.

In September 2018, it issued an RFI for 20 special forces rotorcraft, of which four can be carried in the Boeing C-17 strategic transport. The initial focus on carrying special forces teams, with weapons to come later.

This requirement has attracted interest from Bell, Airbus Helicopters, Leonardo, and Boeing.

Story updated with confirmation from Boeing that it will supply information on the AH-64E.

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