PARIS — French authorities have agreed to cut 20 Tiger combat helicopters and retrofit to simplify the two-model fleet to the more capable attack version, Airbus Helicopter executive vice president Dominique Maudet said on Jan. 27.
The value of the contract will remain the same despite the smaller number of units because unit cost will increase. The new feature is a conversion of the existing escort unit to the attack model, he said.
The 20-strong cut stems from the 2014-19 multiyear budget law, which slashed a planned acquisition of 80 Tigers to 60, reflecting tough budgetary constraints. The Army would have received 40 of the support and escort, and 40 in the support and attack version.
The multiyear budget law sets out a delivery of 16 new Tigers out to 2019.
The Direction Générale de l'Armement "amended the Tiger contract, which went into effect Dec. 19," a spokesman for the procurement office said. Under the amendment, there is a firm order for 24 attack and a retrofit of 36 escort units, he said.
That firm order of 24 new attack helicopters is effectively a cut of 16 from the previous contract for 40 units. Airbus Helicopters said there are also options to compensate for the reduced order, but gave no details.
Airbus Helicopter is expected to deliver the first retrofit of the escort to the attack model in 2017.
The existing fleet of escort units will be upgraded with laser-guided Hellfire II missiles and a more powerful engine.
In December, Airbus delivered the first three of the attack, or hélicoptère appui-destruction (HAD), Block 2 version. These are equipped with an improved targeting system, additional combat external fuel tanks, and are certified for Hellfire and Spike air-to-ground missile, in addition to the Mistral air-to-air weapon. The remaining new units will be shipped by the end of 2017, Maudet said.
The Army lost one of the Tigers in Afghanistan in 2011, due to bad weather conditions.
In 2012 prices, the French share of the Tiger program was €6.3 billion (US $7.1 billion), based on 80 units ordered separately by France and Germany, and 22 by Spain, a French Senate report on the draft 2013 defense budget said. The unit cost, excluding development, was then €27 million for the escort, and €35.6 million for the attack version.
Other French helicopter programs have been affected. On the NH90 transport helicopter, deliveries have been stretched out, with the French Navy to receive three units this year and then two units per year. The Navy has ordered 27 NH90s.
The Army, which is due to receive a total 68 NH90s, will receive four per year compared to a previous target of eight.
The helicopter orders are funded in the conventional procurement process and there have not been talks of acquiring them under the planned special purpose company, a new lease deal being created by the administration.
In Germany, the authorities have renegotiated the contract for the NH90, with the value of the deal unchanged while redirecting to the Navy units that had previously been ordered for the Army. The naval version is more expensive than the land model.
The German Defense Ministry and Airbus Helicopters signed a memorandum of understanding on March 15, 2013, to cut the order for Tigers from 80 to 68 helicopters. The order for the NH90 will be cut from 122 to 82, the company said.
Tiger is a French-German-Spanish program, and the attack version is a French-Spanish cooperation. France initially planned to acquire 220 machines before trimming the order to 80, and now 60. The helicopter was a product of the Cold War and designed as an anti-tank weapon against Warsaw Pact powers, before being adapted into the escort and attack versions.
"If France wants to have a great Army, it has to keep its helicopters," Etienne de Durand, security studies director at think tank Institut Français des Relations Internationales, said in 2012. De Durand had just co-written with Benoît Michel and Elie Tenebaum a report, "Helicopter Warfare: The Future of Airmobility and Rotary Wing Combat."
The French Army has asked for a dispatch of an extra 10 or so combat and transport helicopters to support its 3,000 troops deployed in the Barkhane anti-terrorist operation in sub-Saharan Africa.