MELBOURNE, Australia — Australian taxpayers will save AU$3 billion (U.S. $2 billion) out to 2040 by incrementally upgrading the Australian Army’s 22 Tiger helicopters, rather than replacing the fleet, according to an Airbus official.

Australia is seeking to replace its Airbus-made Tiger armed reconnaissance helicopters with up to 29 proven, mature, off-the-shelf armed helos under Project Land 4503 following a request for information on July 10. The country’s requirement is for up to 24 helicopters to equip two operational squadrons, with five further airframes for training. The RFI specifies an initial operational capability (IOC) in the 2026 time frame and a final operational capability (FOC) to follow around 2028.

Airbus Australia Pacific Managing Director Andrew Mathewson said Aug. 30 that the company’s offering will leverage technology from the European Tiger Mark III program. He added that upgrading the Tiger from the mid-2020s will save compared to acquiring a new type, which itself would need future upgrades if it is to serve until 2040, by which time he said the Australian government hopes to leverage the U.S. military’s Future Vertical Lift program, or FVL.

“Defense has been very plain that they’re focusing on FVL. To replace Tiger in the time frame outlined, acquire a new capability in the early 2030s and have it replaced in the early 2040s I think would be a waste of money,” he said.

The upgrade would take place at Airbus Australia Pacific’s Brisbane facility, which previously assembled 18 of the 22 Tigers.

Boeing on Aug. 30 also publicly announced its proposal for the helo competition. The company would combine the U.S. Defense Department’s Foreign Military Sales and Direct Commercial Sales programs and the Australian Industry Capability process to provide the AH-64E Apache to Australia.

On Sept. 5, Darren Edwards, the managing director of Boeing Defence Australia, said the proposal includes 29 AH-64E Version 6 Apache helicopters, which is the latest production standard delivered to the U.S. Army. The helo features the upgraded Northrop Grumman APG-78 Longbow fire Ccontrol radar with enhanced maritime and air-to-air modes.

“There are elements of the Apache acquisition that must be sold as FMS, [but] there are also elements which can be a DCS,” he said. “There are cost benefits to FMS [and] there are regulatory [U.S.] State Department requirements where we don’t have [a] choice. But where we can move things into a DCS, it will give us the opportunity to bolster local industry content here in Australia.”

Bell also submitted a response to the RFI. Global military business manager for the Asia-Pacific region, Javier Ball, confirmed to Defense News on Sept. 5 that the company proposed 29 AH-1Z Viper helicopters. “The RFI stated up to 29 helicopters, and that’s what our response was,” Ball said. “We can easily make the IOC and FOC deadlines.”

Bell signed a partnering agreement at the 2016 Singapore Airshow with BAE Systems Australia, whereby the latter company will provide in-country support for a future AH-1Z bid.

“We’re looking at the maintenance, training and sustainment being done in Australia, and we’ve teamed with BAE Australia to perform the AIC,” Ball said. “In the future, there’s potential for a regional maintenance center in Australia. I think there’s potential for partners in the region to bring their aircraft down here.”

Nigel Pittaway is the Australia correspondent for Defense News.

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