Robotic Tiger chopper discussed amid drone ‘impotency’ in Ukraine

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The advancement of the Standard 3 Tiger helicopter was eventually halted, shifting towards a less ambitious upgrade, partially due to budget constraints when Germany withdrew their involvement in the project. However, this wasn’t the only reason. 

Photo credit: Spanish Army

“I sought advice from our armed forces, questioning whether the technology provided in Standard 3 aligned with our needs. […] Do we really want to invest in a highly advanced helicopter that might become outdated due to emerging drone technologies? I’m posing this question publicly,” voiced Sebastien Lecornau, Minister of the Armed Forces, back in February 2023.

CEMAT sees robotic choppers

In an examination at the French Senate last November, General Pierre Schille, the Chief of Army Staff [CEMAT], fielded inquiries about the successor to the Tiger. These discussions emerge as debates are already underway for the forthcoming TITAN program, expected to replace SCORPION from 2040 onwards. 

Contrary to the American strategy, which relies on devices capable of crossing vast distances rapidly, the army is putting their stakes on “low flying machines that can infiltrate enemy lines under the cover of night,” according to Schille. 

“Preliminary studies concentrate on whether these flights will be manned or unmanned. We’re confronted with a split pathway – one trail leads us to upgrade the capabilities of current aircraft, while the other guides us towards the futuristic vision of robotic helicopters. These are a hybrid of helicopters and drones as showcased in the Future Air Combat System [FCAS], or even the so-called ‘tank of the future’, the MGCS [Major Ground Combat System],” Schill explained to the senators.

Photo credit: Airbus

Separating the wheat from the chaff

Recently, the US Military announced their plans to discontinue the FARA [Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft] initiative. This program was aimed at ushering in a new era of reconnaissance and assault helicopters. However, according to their analysis, a blend of resources including drones and space assets could accomplish the same objectives more cost-effectively and efficiently. 

Sharing his thoughts on LinkedIn, General Schill commented on the future landscape of assault helicopters following the US Military’s decision on the FARA program. He posed an intriguing question, “Should we retain the tactical, human, and technological expertise that we’ve carefully developed over decades – expertise that could quickly deteriorate if we decide to abandon or pivot radically to align with modern warfare trends?” 

Essentially, this entails a delicate balance between identifying cyclical patterns from structural changes and acknowledging that the nature of conflict is diverse. Any misjudgments could result in an expensive mistake, cautioned General Schill. Particularly when considering that the widespread use of drones, as seen in Ukraine, has its limits.

Maybe EW is the future?

The unyielding dance of drones waging war on both sides has been ongoing for a year. Yet, surprisingly, the drones, which are the principal weapon of choice, have not tipped the scales in anyone’s favor. This status quo isn’t likely to change anytime soon, and here’s why. As General Kiril Budanov, the chief of Ukrainian military intelligence put it in an interview with Libération, “Until a human marches in and plants a flag in the enemy trench, it doesn’t matter if a million drones hover buzzing above – no one’s truly possessing that chunk of land.” 

However, we do glean an interesting insight from a November hearing featuring General Schill. The General threw light on the pivotal role of electronic warfare in the contemporary theatre of battle. 

Photo credit: Boeing

During the hearing, he revealed that electronic countermeasures had effectively grounded 70% of drones engaged in the Ukrainian conflict. This staggering figure explains the sharp decline in the reliance on Turkish drones. Once lauded as the most menacing aerial threat only a couple of years ago, these drones are seeing less action now, their advantage undermined by their relative ease of detection and silencing. Consequently, it is more crucial than ever to utilize every weapon at our disposal to counter this aerial threat. That is the mission of the Future Combat Command, General Schill detailed when addressing the senate. 

About Tiger chopper

The Tiger attack helicopter, also known as the Eurocopter Tiger, is a multi-role combat helicopter developed and manufactured by Eurocopter. As of now, it’s in service with the armed forces of several countries, including Germany, France, Spain, and Australia. 

Powering the Tiger helicopter are two MTU Turbomeca Rolls-Royce MTR390 turboshaft engines. Capable of producing 1,168 shaft horsepower each, these engines provide the helicopter with a peak speed of 280 km/h [174 mph] and a cruising speed of 259 km/h [161 mph]. Meticulously equipped with full authority digital engine control [FADEC], the engines effectively heighten the helicopter’s operational efficiency. 

The Tiger boasts a maximum takeoff weight of 6,000 kg [13,227 lbs] and a payload capacity of 1,300 kg [2,866 lbs]. It showcases a fully digital glass cockpit, to its credit, that integrates a helmet-mounted sight and display system. More so, the chopper’s stealthy design reduces both its radar cross-section and infrared signature. 

As for its operational range, the Tiger can seamlessly travel up to 800 km [497 miles] without refueling. It also features a service ceiling of 4,000 m [13,123 ft], enabling it to operate in diverse environments and weather conditions. 

Photo credit: Pixabay

Tiger’s armament

The armament of the Tiger varies based on the specific variant and mission in question. However, it typically comes equipped with a 30 mm GIAT cannon, which is situated in a turret on the nose of the helicopter. Besides the cannon, it can also bear an array of other armaments such as anti-tank missiles, air-to-air missiles, and unguided rockets. 

The impressive range of the helicopter’s weapons is controlled by an advanced fire control system. This system includes elements like laser rangefinders and infrared sensors. 

The Tiger variants and operators

The primary modifications include the UHT [Unterstützungshubschrauber Tiger] for Germany, the HAP [Hélicoptère d’Appui Protection] and HAD [Hélicoptère d’Appui Destruction] for France, and the ARH [Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter] for Australia. 

The UHT version for Germany functions as a versatile fire support helicopter. It’s outfitted with PARS 3 LR ‘fire and forget’, HOT3 anti-tank missiles, Stinger air-to-air missiles, 70mm Hydra rockets, and a 12.7mm gun pod. This modification extends to having mast-mounted sight with a second-generation infrared channel and a TV channel, alongside other enhancements. 

The French HAP modification is an air-to-air combat and fire support medium-weight version. It is armed with 68mm SNEB rockets, Mistral air-to-air missiles, and a 30mm GIAT cannon. A higher-grade version of the HAP, the HAD version, boasts an escalated anti-tank capability, spruced-up avionics, and better protection for the crew. 

Australia employs the ARH version, an upgrade from the original HAP. The ARH Tiger is equipped with Hellfire II air-to-ground missiles, 70mm Hydra rockets, Stinger air-to-air missiles, and a 30mm cannon. An added advantage of this version is its advanced sensor and target systems. 

Spain also operates the Tiger helicopter, employing a version akin to the French HAD. The Spanish version is armed with the Spike-ER anti-tank missile, Mistral air-to-air missile, and a 30mm cannon. To round up, it also features enhanced avionics and electronic warfare systems.

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