PARIS ― France is now prepared to set specifications, draw up contracts and identify risks for the midlife upgrade of its Tiger attack helicopter, following an investment meeting held May 2 by Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly.

“The minister launched the elaboration phase of the program for Tiger Mk 3 on the basis of European cooperation,” the ministry said in a May 7 statement.

The helicopter upgrade is part of a drive to strengthen Franco-German cooperation in defense and security, which includes a new joint missile for air-to-ground attack, the ministry said.

In the elaboration step, the Direction Générale de l’Armement procurement office sets specs, writes contracts, seeks to eliminate risk on critical points and weights remaining programmatic risks. That elaboration is the step just before contracts are signed with industry and the program is launched.

The upgrade is intended to maintain the Tiger in active service beyond 2040. It is also meant to link the helicopter to the French Army’s Scorpion communications network for a collaborative combat approach, as well as boost the attack capability, the ministry said.

The modernization includes fitting the Contact software-defined tactical radio, new modular avionics, a new targeting system, and a new missile to replace the Hellfire II weapon.

For work on the new missile, the DGA awarded on Oct. 11 a contract worth €1.7 million (U.S. $2 million) to MBDA to study a the Future tactical Air-Surface Missile requirement. That study will take into consideration MHT, a potential long-range version of the MMP anti-tank missile; EMMH, which defense bloggers consider to be an evolved version of the Hellfire missile; and the Brimstone 3 missile.

In response to the modernization decision, Airbus Helicopters CEO Bruno Even tweeted over the weekend: “The Tiger is an emblem of the Franco-German cooperation at the heart of the DNA @AirbusHeli. Our teams are mobilized to stand by your side in the pursuit of Mk3 and continue the success of this extraordinary program.”

The ministry recently noted the poor availability of some 25 percent of all helicopters flown by the French armed forces as well as more than 30 different service contracts for the Tiger.

OCCAR, the European agency for joint arms programs, will manage the cooperative work between France and Germany on the Tiger. That bilateral cooperation carries French hopes for sharing the financial burden of acquiring weapons.

The French Tiger fleet is undergoing a retrofit of the escort-role Tiger to the more capable attack version, with a total fleet of 67 units of the latter expected in 2025. That retrofit program signals the Mark 3 version would be flying after 2025 in the next multiyear budget law.