Correction: A previous version of this story misidentified OCCAR. It is a European intergovernmental agency.
STUTTGART, Germany – Airbus is cleared to build new Tiger attack helicopters for the French and Spanish armies, while Germany’s participation still remains to be seen.
The European intergovernmental procurement agency Organisation for Joint Armament Co-operation (OCCAR) signed a contract with the aerospace giant to move forward on the awaited upgrade program, Airbus announced in a Wednesday statement.
The Tiger MkIII program includes 60 aircraft total, with 42 earmarked for the French army and 18 for Spain. France also has the option to tack on another 25 helicopters. First flight is expected in 2025, with the first delivery of a French Tiger helicopter due in 2029, with Madrid to receive its first upgraded aircraft in 2030. Work will be performed in Airbus Helicopter facilities in Albacete, Spain; Marignane, France, and Donauwörth, Germany. The total contract worth was not revealed, and OCCAR did not respond to requests for comment by deadline.
The contract also includes the option for Germany to join the program sometime in the future. Bruno Even, chief executive of Airbus Helicopters, hinted in January that the contract may only include France and Spain to start, per reporting by Flight Global. Airbus was “leaving the door open” for Germany to join, he said.
The German Army has reportedly balked at procuring the upgraded Tiger helicopter, amid concern about the low operational readiness of its current fleet. Australia, which also flies the Tiger helicopter, announced in January 2021 that it would buy Boeing-made AH-64 Apaches to replace its Tigers, and it’s possible Berlin could follow suit.
There is no deadline for Berlin to opt in, an Airbus spokesperson told Defense News on Wednesday. Berlin joined Madrid and Paris in signing a trilateral global support contract with Airbus via OCCAR. The spokesperson declined to comment on why Germany isn’t participating from the get-go, but confirmed that the Donauwörth facilities would be involved regardless.
Thales, Safran, and Indra are also involved in the Tiger upgrade program, which will allow the helicopter to perform manned-unmanned teaming, and feature a range of new weapons as well as detection and targeting capabilities. The standard configuration includes a Thales-made avionics suite, a dual-constellation (GPS and Galileo) satellite navigation system, new helmet-mounted displays, and radio and data links meant for manned-unmanned teaming. Safran is providing its Strix NG sights system, along with an inertial navigation system, while Indra will supply new IFF transponders. The Tiger MkIII will be outfitted with a turret gun, laser-guided rockets, and missiles.
The French variant will also include the MBDA MAST-F (future tactical air-to-surface missile) and Mistral 3 air-to-air missile, along with a new battlefield management system by Atos and a self-protection system built by Thales. Indra is providing the battlefield management system and countermeasures for Spain.
The Spanish Tiger will also include new 70mm guided rockets along with a new air-to-ground missile, as well as Link16 and SATCOM functionalities.
Once delivered, the upgraded Tiger MkIII aircraft are expected to remain operational into the 2040s, per industry officials. Australia, France, Spain, and Germany currently operate Tiger helicopters, which were first produced in 1991.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the location of one the program works sites, which is in Spain.
Vivienne Machi is a reporter based in Stuttgart, Germany, contributing to Defense News' European coverage. She previously reported for National Defense Magazine, Defense Daily, Via Satellite, Foreign Policy and the Dayton Daily News. She was named the Defence Media Awards' best young defense journalist in 2020.