Caged Tiger: Germany’s Troubled Helicopter Purchase
Germany’s EC665 Tiger UHT/HAC scout and attack helicopters have traveled a long road since the initial 1984 requirement that launched the program. They were originally slated for service in 1992, but technical delays have dogged the project. Schedule slips and funding shortfalls meant that the EUR 3 billion for 80 helicopters wasn’t placed until 1998. Deliveries from Eurocopter began in 2003, but instead of having 67 helicopters in service by the end of 2009, Germany had just 11 – none of which are considered fit for operations, or even for training.
That issue came to a head in May 2010, as the German government moved to suspend the contract until these technical issues are fixed:
- Unterstutzungshubschrauber: Germany’s Tiger UHT/HAC
- Updates & Key Events
- Additional Readings
Unterstutzungshubschrauber: Germany’s Tiger UHT/HAC
A small unit of French Tiger HAPs began operations in Afghanistan in late July 2009, but Germany’s UHT is effectively a different platform, with its own development and fielding schedule.
All Tiger versions are designed to survive strikes of shells up to 23mm, and their twin MTR390 turboshafts give them the ability to do impressive looping demonstrations at airshows. Beyond that base platform, the types begin to diverge in basic capabilities, and integrated equipment.
Germany’s UHT/HAC lacks the chin-mounted 30mm gun present on all other Tiger models, From France’s HAP to Australia’s ARH and France/Spain’s new HAD variant. All other Tiger models use a roof-mounted sight to direct their weapons, but Germany’s UHT/HAC uses a mast-mounted sight. Mast-mounted sights provide better vantage points for firing helicopters, and allow maneuvers that simply poke the sight up above a hill or treeline to fire. On the other hand, they come with many more technical challenges than a roof-mounted or chin-mounted system.
Tiger UHT weapons include HOT or Trigat/PARS anti-tank missiles, 70mm Hydra rockets, and FIM-92 Stinger anti-aircraft missiles.
Updates & Key Events
Oct 21/11: As German austerity measures cut further into an already weak defense budget, the government announces changes to its Tiger helicopter plans. It plans to halve its buy of EC 665 Tiger UHT/HAC scout/attack helicopters, to just 40.
Eurocopter will take a 2nd hit when Germany cuts 42 NH90s from the 112 helicopter procurement plan, capping the total buy at 80. The final split between the Army and Air Force, who were going to fly slightly different versions of the TTH model, remains unclear. Also unclear: potential termination costs under the contract with NH Industries and Eurocopter. Aviation Week.
May 25/10: In an exclusive report, Reuters receives internal ministry documents that say Germany is suspending its contract of Eurocopter’s Tiger attack helicopters, until serious problems with the helicopters’ wiring and performance are fixed. The report also states that None of the 11 Tiger helicopters delivered to date has been suitable for operational use or for training.
According to the ministry report, the move is expected to introduce a delay of at least 7 months before Germany will have helicopters ready for use in Afghanistan – until November 2011. Asked for a response, Eurocopter told Reuters that:
“Corrective measures related to wiring problems have been developed, agreed by the customer and are being implemented… The first two helicopters will be handed over to the German official services in June and July  for intensive tests. In alignment with the customer, additional helicopter deliveries to the German Army are foreseen from the fourth quarter of 2010.”
Faced with delays in shipment of Tigers into theater, and a need for battlefield support in the face of increasing Taliban attacks, Germany has several options. One is to continue to rely on other NATO forces for support, until and if the Tigers arrive in theater. Another option would lease heavy air transport into theater, and rely on precision artillery to be their organic support. German-made PzH2000 self-propelled howitzers used so successfully by the Dutch, or longer-range MLRS rockets that the British have found so effective, are both in stock. A third option would ship aging MBB Bo105 light scout/attack helicopters into theater as an interim step, though their protection level is not ideal. A final option would be to take over operations of its leased Heron UAVs and arm them, or act on its approved request to buy MQ-9 Reaper UAVs. Reuters | UK Daily Telegraph.
Aug 6/09: A story by Germany’s Der Spiegel suggests problems with Germany’s Tiger UHT fleet, along with a number of other EADS platforms. Issues reportedly include fraying or faulty wiring, and poor weapon accuracy.