A group of diverse contenders have launched their final bids to replace and, in some cases, enhance the Australian Army’s armed reconnaissance helicopter capability.
The Australian Army is planning to replace the current fleet of EC665 Tiger armed reconnaissance helicopters (ARH) from the mid-2020s as identified in the 2016 Defence White Paper: "The government will replace the 22 Tiger armed reconnaissance helicopters with a new armed reconnaissance capability from the
The acquisition strategy aims to reduce operational and in-service risk, and to allow the Australian Army to rapidly achieve operational milestones for the replacement armed reconnaissance capability, while achieving value for money.
LAND 4503's program of delivery aims to support the Australian Army and is designed to contribute to the creation of the modernisation and development of a 'networked and hardened' Army, the acquisition is broken down into three delivery stages beginning with projected IOC in 2026 and FOC in 2028, including:
- Up to 24 aircraft would be based at one primary location and another five are intended at a training location. The aircraft fleet may also be co-located in one primary location, however this is yet to be determined.
- IOC for LAND 4503 is based on a squadron of up to 12 aircraft. This organisation would be capable of generating a deployable troop of four aircraft, continued force generation of four aircraft, and an initial build-up training element of four aircraft. IOC will be supported by trained personnel and support systems.
- FOC for LAND 4503 is based on a regiment of up to 24 aircraft. This organisation would be capable of generating multiple concurrent deployed forces of up to squadron size. FOC will also be supported by a mature training system of up to five aircraft, with trained personnel and support systems.
Bell's Viper prepared to strike
Bell, a subsidiary of Textron, is presenting the AH-1Z Viper, currently in service with the US Marine Corps, which has been designed and built to support the expeditionary and maritime-centric focus of operations conducted by the US Marines.
A Bell spokesperson told Defence Connect, "The AH-1Z Viper is the only marinised attack helicopter that offers:
- An increase in capability – can conduct air-to-air and air-to-ground on the same sortie simultaneously; and can operate equally well afloat or ashore without any degradation in capabilities;
- An increase in safety - specifically designed for overwater missions, and for shipboard and expeditionary environments;
- A decrease in risk – made to operate on board ship with proven capabilities and without any degradation in capability, thus providing low cost options to government; and
- A decrease in acquisition costs and total cost of ownership – significantly lowest cost per flight hour and total life cycle cost, no requirement for expensive contractor maintenance."
Marinisation also includes all new advanced composite rotor blades and yoke style main rotor hubs that significantly outperform legacy “strap-pack” type systems, which are prone to corrosion and failure.
It also includes semi-automatic blade folding for quick stowage either on board ship or for rapid C-17 deployment, rotor brakes, ease of maintenance, electromagnetic environmental effects (E3) hardening, which provides safety against the ship’s powerful radars and other sensors from interfering with aircraft on board weapons and systems.
"The combat proven Bell AH-1Z Viper is the only marinised attack helicopter in the world that is specifically designed and built for expeditionary and maritime operations. Marinisation is more than just corrosion protection against saltwater. Unlike unproven and costly add-ons, Bell’s marinisation begins at aircraft design and is built into the aircraft at point of manufacture to ensure conformity to shipboard operations," explained Javier 'Nerf' Ball, international campaign manager, Asia, global military sales and strategy.
The government has brought the LAND 4503 Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter Replacement program forward and aims to acquire a proven and mature, off-the-shelf manned armed helicopter to deliver armed reconnaissance effects in the close and deep contested battlespace in support of the Australian Defence Force.
The work horse – Boeing's Apache
Boeing has confirmed the AH-64E Apache as its offering for LAND 4503 – Apache is flown by the US and 15 other countries, has recorded more than 4.5 million flight hours with the US Army alone. There are currently 1,180 Apaches in service today.
Terry Jamison, global sales and marketing, defence, space and security at Boeing said, "Boeing’s AH-64E Apache is known for its survivability, sustainability, interoperability and reconnaissance capability. As an Apache operator, Australia would join coalition countries, including the US and UK, and regional partners Singapore, Indonesia, Japan and the Republic of Korea."
Boeing's media release identified a number of benefits for the Australian government, namely the modernisation process currently upgrading the US fleet of Apache's, which will see the platform upgraded through the late-2040s and beyond to ensure global fleet partners continue to operate the most advanced multi-role combat helicopter for decades to come.
Darren Edwards, vice president and managing director, Boeing Defence Australia, said, "The benefits of Apache for Australia are more significant than continued platform upgrades. Boeing plans to deliver support services in-country and engage local suppliers to maximise Australian industry involvement for the ARH replacement program."
The incumbent - ARH Tiger
Airbus Helicopters is offering a cost-effective approach for taking the Tiger platform beyond 2040, in response to the Australian government's request for information (RFI) for the Project LAND 4503 Armed Reconnaissance Capability.
Airbus is the manufacturer of the tandem seat Tiger helicopters introduced to the Australian Army in 2004. Eighteen of the 22 units were assembled at the Airbus site in Brisbane, Australia. The fleet has been supported in Australia for more than 15 years.
The Airbus Helicopters proposal will offer the Australian Army and taxpayer with more than $3 billion in savings against the expected budget for LAND 4503.
Andrew Mathewson, Airbus Australia Pacific managing director, explained, "Airbus proudly delivers a strong Australian industry capability, including more than 260 local staff supporting Tiger."
Globally, 181 Tigers have been delivered to Australia, France, Germany and Spain. First deployed by the French Army in Afghanistan in 2009, Tiger continues to demonstrate its essential role in theatres of operation as a highly versatile, stealthy and manoeuvrable attack helicopter.