Helicopter manufacturers had a high profile at this year's Australian International Airshow, as they anticipate Canberra’s next steps in the armed reconnaissance helicopter (ARH) space.
Following a white paper last year stating that a replacement would be found for the Australian Army’s 22 Airbus Helicopters Tigers, Bell Helicopter and Boeing had a notable attack rotorcraft presence at this year’s show.
The Airbus Helicopters Tiger also appeared in the flying display, flown by army pilots. The type has experienced numerous challenges since entering service in in the mid-2000s, including low availability rates and other issues. Last year, a government audit slammed the programme’s performance.
Bell Helicopter promoted its AH-1Z Zulu platform for the requirement, with a cockpit demonstrator device at its stand.
John Woodbury, who heads business development for Bell Helicopter in the Asia-Pacific, says that it would likely team with a partner should a competition be announced. It feels that the Zulu offers a number of elements Australia would find attractive, including the type’s ability to operate off warships, as it does extensively in US Marine Corps service.
He stresses that marinisation is actually a very rigorous process, including the sealing of bolts and rivets while the rotorcraft is still in the production process.
The Zulu can also serve as a sensor platform. It uses the same Lockheed Martin electro-optical/infrared sensor used aboard the AC-130 gunship. Radar not carried by marines, but Woodbery says it could be integrated should the customer require it.
Boeing also had a major presence at the show, bringing a brand new AH-64E Apache attack helicopter that it leased from the US Army. Accompanied by Boeing personnel, the rotorcraft was transported to the show aboard an Antonov AN-124 cargo jet.
The aircraft appeared on static and in the flying display. Boeing’s strong presence in the Australian market via other programmers would probably be an advantage in a major attack helicopter competition.
In a media briefing, Boeing business development executive Mark Bellew highlighted the Apache’s firepower, sensors, and ability to share information with other platforms.
Airbus Helicopters, for its part, holds faith in the Tiger.
“Airbus remains strongly committed to the future of Tiger, with an upgrade plan underway aimed at keeping this capability contemporary into the future,” says a company spokesman.
“Airbus remains fully committed to an operational ARH Tiger capability for the Australian Army so that the soldiers, Defence and Government can deploy Tiger should it be required.”