PARIS — Eurocopter does not expect a big cut in orders for its Tiger attack helicopter for the French Army Air Corps as the government prepares its multiyear military budget, Chief Executive Lutz Bertling said Jan. 24.
Although cuts to the Tiger order had not been forecast, with overall budget cuts in the offing, any equipment that has not been delivered is a potential target for cancellation.
“There are zero discussions on the Tiger contract,” Bertling said at a news conference.
“We don’t expect a significant negative impact,” he said, adding that a cut of, say, two units would not count as “significant.”
French defense planners are preparing the 2014-2019 multiyear military budget law. In 1999, France and Germany signed a production contract for 160 Tigers, with each country taking 80 units.
The first four units of a batch of 40 Tigers in the hélicoptère appui destruction (HAD) — or support and attack helicopter — version will be delivered later this year, following its certification Jan. 14 by the Direction Générale de l’Armement procurement office, said a Defense Ministry spokesman, Col. Thierry Burkhard.
The new Tiger model is armed with the Hellfire 2 air-to-surface missile and a more powerful engine.
The Defense Ministry showed a video of a Tiger firing a Hellfire against a ship at sea. It was not clear the missile hit the naval target.
The French Army has sent three Tigers to back up troops in Mali, said Burkhard, declining to add what the total number deployed will be. The French Army deployed five Tigers to Afghanistan.
Eurocopter expects to deliver the four new Tiger HAD helicopters in the second half of the year, with qualification due in June, said Executive Vice President Dominique Maudet.
The French Army Air Corps has received the first batch of 40 Tigers in the hélicoptère appui protection (HAP) light support version, armed with a 30mm cannon, 68mm rockets and Mistral air-to-air missiles.
Of the 40 HAP Tigers delivered to the French Army, 30 are in the full specification standard one version, and 10 in the basic step one model.
When the Tiger production contract was signed, the total French and German requirements were 215 and 212 units, respectively.
Development and production on the Tiger program was budgeted at 7.3 billion euros ($9.8 billion), shared equally between France and Germany, according to a 2008 business plan report of the Organisation Conjointe de Coopération en matière d’armement (OCCAR) procurement agency.
Talks are going on with the French government for an order of additional NH90 transport helicopters, Bertling said.
An order for 34 more NH90s in the Army tactical transport helicopter version is due at the end of March. France has ordered 61 NH90s, comprising 34 NH90 transports for the Army and 27 in the NATO frigate helicopter version for the Navy.
The NH90 is built by NHIndustries, a consortium owned 62.5 percent by Eurocopter, 32 percent by Italy’s AgustaWestland and 5.5 percent by Fokker, of the Netherlands.
Bertling said there are “very constructive talks” with German authorities in a reassignment of orders on the Tiger and NH90, intended to maintain the overall value of the contracts.
Customers are renegotiating contracts because of Europe’s financial crisis. Spain is cutting seven NH90s from a 45-strong order and is negotiating for spares and services while paying the full contract value.
Greece is stretching out deliveries for 20 NH90s it ordered, taking four to six units instead of a previous eight. Athens has received four.
Portugal wants to cancel an order for 10 NH90s, but some 30 percent to 40 percent of the contract value has been incurred. Eurocopter executives hope Lisbon officials will change their minds when they see the cost of cancellation, with no helicopters to show for it.
The Tiger is being pitched to Brazil, Malaysia and Qatar, each looking to buy 10 to 20, while Mexico needs six new combat copters.
The Armed Aerial Scout 72X+ helicopter completed “hot and high” flight trials for the U.S. Army last year, showing the best performance in the trials, Bertling said.
Eurocopter made 2012 sales of 6.3 billion euros, up 15 percent from a year ago, and booked new orders of 5.4 billion euros, up from 4.7 billion euros, for a net 469 units. It aims to double sales within eight years instead of 10, Bertling said.