The Tiger combat helicopter is a retired model – the Bundeswehr needs a decision on a successor

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FROM: Daniel Seeger

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Tiger of the Kurhessen combat helicopter regiment in the Fritzlar Georg-Friedrich barracks. The old town of Fritzlar is visible in the background. © Peter Zerhau

The decision on the model of the successor to the Bundeswehr Tiger combat helicopter is pending. For the 36th Combat Helicopter Regiment in Fritzlar, this could mean a big change.

Fritzlar – Tiger attack helicopter needs a successor. At least that’s what the various defense experts say. And the commander of the Fritzlar regiment, Colonel Sönke Schmuck, recently emphasized in an interview with HNA that the decision on a successor must take precedence.

The fact that a successor to the German-French Tiger combat helicopter is already being sought is due to the fact that the acquisition of military equipment is much more complex than, for example, the purchase of civilian vehicles such as trucks. they are also more complex themselves. According to the military, the helicopter is to be used by 2038.

Bundeswehr expert: The Tiger attack helicopter is an old model

Scientist and soldier of the Bundeswehr, Dr. Florian Schöne is an expert in the field of security and defense policy, and he completed his training as a helicopter pilot. It is clear to him that the Tiger is now an old model. The first prototype of the helicopter was planned as early as 1984. For Fritzlar Army Aviation, this means that some of the technology inside the machine is no longer up to date and spare parts are missing.

For years, the serious problem of the Tiger was the lack of operational readiness of machines, which could also have been important when deciding on a possible successor.

In connection with the decision on Tiger’s successor: There are changes to the Bundeswehr’s headquarters in Fritzlar

As the spokesman of the 36th Combat Helicopter Regiment Remo Templin-Dahlenburg emphasized in an interview with HNA, one would like to have a system on an object that is not so susceptible to failure and on which Fritzlar’s pilots can make as many flight hours as possible. . “And our technicians also want to be able to work on a system that doesn’t have to be back on the ground for maintenance after two hours.”

Depending on how the decision is made at the political level, one can expect a more or less strong impact on the location of Fritzlar – even if the future of the location is considered safe. (Daniel Seeger)

A Bundeswehr soldier orders a Tiger helicopter to land.
Soldiers train in Marienberg to refuel Tiger helicopters of the 36th Combat Regiment during exercise for VJTF 23 certification. © Anne Weinrich / Bundeswehr

INTERVIEW: Dr. Florian Schöne on the future of the Tiger attack helicopter and possible alternatives to the Bundeswehr

The tiger needs a successor. But what are the options? And what could a decision in favor of the location of Fritzlar mean? We have an officer and scientist, Dr. Florian Schöne from the Foundation for Science and Politics in Berlin. Schöne conducts research at the Science and Politics Foundation in Berlin, incl. on military technology.

The planned end of the tiger’s life is 2038. They say the tiger’s successor must be decided now. Where does time pressure come from?

Every time you want to introduce a new machine, the process in the Bundeswehr takes about six to seven years. In addition, there may be problems on the part of the manufacturer.

They also require a specific lead time that needs to be taken into account. In the case of the Tiger, apart from outside political pressure, we are now at a point where we need to think about how the machine should perform in the long run.

As the Tiger combat helicopter is also technically evolving, this question is all the more urgent. The fact that France and Spain chose to further develop the Tiger system brought things to the fore once again.

Do pilots fly antiquated helicopters in Fritzlar?

There are a few things that definitely need to be addressed. For example, replacing obsolete parts. There are also parts in the machine that need to be replaced regularly.

But before investing in life extension measures now, the long-term outlook for machines needs to be clear, which means you have to consider whether certain investments are still profitable.

Does the Bundeswehr still need attack helicopters for its missions?

Yes, attack helicopters are still very important for their versatility. They have the great advantage that they can move around in a scenery of obstacles, which is close to the ground and between forests or buildings where you may not be able to access drones anymore because you can no longer control them. Battle ships are a good way to get close to your enemy and go unnoticed. And they are built specifically for combat, unlike converted civilian machines, for example.

The Bundeswehr will continue to need combat helicopters in the future. Not only because of their value as a weapon system, but also because they are used to direct the fire of other units. They have also proved their worth in previous missions such as Afghanistan and Mali. These types of missions will remain possible scenarios for the Bundeswehr in the future.

What are the inheritance options?

There are basically three options – possibly with different variants. The first is the continuation of the Tiger project and its further development together with our partners France and Spain. Option two is to buy another model, such as the Apache helicopter or the AH-1Z Viper, both from the US.

A third option would be to make only the most necessary modifications to the current model in order to be able to safely operate the Tiger by 2038 and supplement the assault helicopter fleet with light support helicopters. It is a civilian model the size of a rescue helicopter, which was then armed.

The latter option may be suitable for purchasing a very modern system later, i.e. from 2035. The US armed forces are working on projects for the future of military helicopters.

However, options can be very expensive depending on the range and model. As the unit price goes down with the quantity purchased. For the US alternative, it is not necessarily to be expected that with smaller purchase quantities, helicopters will be much more expensive as there are many different buyers here.

One of the problems is the lack of commitment, will it be different with the successor?

It depends on many factors. It can now be concluded that the Tiger over the years has not been able to significantly increase the availability of machines. Whether it would be otherwise after further development is quite doubtful. Confidence in the industry is therefore rather low.

By opting for an alternative model, it is possible that a high level of operational readiness can be achieved relatively quickly.

A good target is around 70 percent availability. 30 percent will be under maintenance or otherwise unavailable, simply because of the complexity of the system. As far as I know, we are far from there.

What does all of this mean for the Fritzlar location?

The decisive message is that no matter what helicopter the military will use in the future, there is no threat to the Fritzlar plant. The combat helicopter system is not currently in question.

Rather, the decisive question is: where can military pilots evolve? For example, if light support helicopters are added, you will need locations for these machines.

AH-64 Apache helicopters are to be transferred from Germany to the Baltic countries.  (archival image)
A possible successor to the Bundeswehr Tiger attack helicopter could be the American AH-64 Apache. (Archival photo) © Darko Bandic / dpa

To the person

Dr. Florian Schöne is a Lieutenant Colonel in the General Staff Service and a visiting researcher at the Science and Politics Foundation. A trained helicopter pilot studied and received his PhD at the University of the Federal Armed Forces in Munich. In the years 2018-2020 he participated in the national course of the general staff and admiral.

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