When France and Germany decided to co-operate on their next-generation combat helicopter in 1984, the geo-strategic context was radically different from that of today. Germany wanted an effective tank-killing helicopter to counter the armoured threat posed by its Warsaw Pact neighbours, so it chose the HAC anti-tank variant, which it designated Tiger UHT. France needed a machine able to "plug the gaps" possibly left by Germany, says General Hubert de Larocque Latour, who was responsible for the initial design requirement of the helicopter and is now a Eurocopter vice-president.

"Given our experiences in the 1980s in France's former Central African colonies, we wanted to be able to go far to support our troops in Africa and be autonomous - in other words, have no tank support," says de Larocque. As a result France required the HAC and a combat support version (HAP). Plans originally called for the procurement of 217 French Tigers by 2010, divided between 70 HAPs and 147 HACs, and 212 German UHTs.

France and Germany have since each placed production contracts for 80 helicopters, with the German army scheduled to receive the first UHT machine later this year. France will take delivery of its first helicopter in June next year. Australia has ordered 22 Tigers, for which local production and deliveries will begin in November 2004.

The Eurocopter Tiger has been in development flight-test for many years. But latterly its design has had to evolve to meet the new multi-mission needs of a post-Cold War world. With the threat of mass waves of tanks pouring in from Eastern Europe having dissipated with the collapse of the Warsaw Pact, the French army has modified its requirements. It has dropped the planned acquisition of HACs and asked for two major modifications to the HAP to give it a greater multirole capability. The new version closely resembles the modified Tiger HAD variant selected by the Australian army last year.

The first two upgrades are to integrate the HAP's Thales electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) roof-mounted sight with the Tiger's two principal anti-tank weapons, the MBDA Trigat-LR and Euro missile Hot 3, increasing the number of weapons systems to four, compared to the three originally on the HAP. Australia, in addition, has chosen to arm its HAD machines with the Lockheed Martin AGM-114K Hellfire missile - but the US laser-guided missile will not be integrated before the end of 2005.

The fire-and-forget Trigat has a range of up to 5km (2.7nm). It has positive target identification and lock-on before launch, which means the helicopter can remain hidden, and therefore safe, while locking on to the target. The older Hot weapon by contrast is a wire-guided missile, which the weapons system officer needs to guide for up to 17s over its maximum 4km range.

Chin-mounted gun

The Tiger is also equipped with a chin-mounted turreted 30mm (1.2in) gun made by Giat Industries. "The huge advantage of having a chin-mounted gun is that it can shoot air-to-air in whatever configuration the helicopter is in - taking-off, accelerating or whatever," de says Larocque. "It is the weapon of immediate reaction. It's coupled with a helmet-mounted visor and has a ±90¡ azimuth and -30¡/+33¡ elevation," he adds.

Another weapon system on the French Tiger is the MBDA Mistral air-to-air missile (ATAM), while Germany has opted for the rival Raytheon Stinger system. ATAM is already installed on the French army's Eurocopter Gazelle helicopters and is qualified for the Tiger. "There is no other missile like it. It was designed for the helicopter from the outset," says de Larocque.

Tiger 's wing-stub mounted weapons pylons can accommodate up to eight Trigat LRs or Hots, or a combination of the two anti-tank missiles, along with four ATAMs There is also the option of two ferry tanks and up to four SNEB 68mm or 70mm rocket packs. De Larocque dismisses criticism that the 6,000kg Tiger can only carry eight missiles. "If the Germans opted for this system and they were really concentrating on having the best anti-tank helicopter possible, then eight missiles is enough for this type of mission," he says.

The need to fly in hot, sandy conditions, such as those in Africa, means the Tiger's initial design took these parameters into account. Given forthcoming competitions in Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Spain, Eurocopter is also working on an upgrade of Tiger's transmission to help maintain performance levels in hot-and-high environments. "Because power diminishes with heat, we need a more powerful gearbox," says Eurocopter.

Tiger is equipped with twin 960kW (1,285shp)-rated MTU/Turbomeca/Rolls-Royce MTR390 turboshafts, designed specifically for the helicopter.

De Larocque says the additional power will not require any strengthening of the airframe structure or other dynamics components. The vast bulk of the helicopter's structure is either carbon/carbon or carbon/Kevlar composites for added strength and reduced weight. The design also lends itself to future deployments at sea aboard helicopter carriers without any modifications. "The composite materials mean it will not corrode, and the initial design took this requirement into account. So it has all the necessary tie-down points," de Larocque adds.

The aircraft's sensors were adapted in 1989 early in the design phase, to take account of new developments, notably in the EO/IR field. "There is no radar aboard, which makes the Tiger totally passive," says de Larocque. "We opted for a man-in-the-loop system: the pilot always has to check what it is he's shooting at, thus no radar." A radar could be added if required.

Other additions being considered for the Tiger include an automatic target-detection and classification system to process ground and aerial threats, while Lockheed Martin is in talks with Eurocopter to offer its Hawkeye Target Sight System, which includes a third-generation mid-wave forward looking infrared image. Tecnobi of Spain is also working on developing a new mast-mounted 360û azimuth infrared system, which could interest the French army," says Eurocopter.

The Tiger programme has had a slow gestation, second perhaps only to the Boeing SikorskyRAH-66 Comanche, and lost to the Boeing Apache in several key early contests, notably the Netherlands and the UK in 1995. "These markets were lost because the Tiger was not mature, and we had no sales contracts at all for them, not even with France and Germany," says de Larocque. The situation today is different, with domestic and Australian orders in hand for 182 machines, with the hope that other orders will begin to flow in.

Source: Flight International