Born in 1976 from a Franco-German initiative and deployed for the first time in a theater of operation last July, three French Tiger helicopters from the Pau-based “5e RHC” (5e Régiment d’Hélicoptères de Combats) are now part of the “Musketeer Task Force” deployed at Kabul airport (along with three EC725 Caracals, two AS 532 Cougars and three SA 342 Gazelles “Viviane”) and implemented by the ALAT (Aviation Légère de l’Armée de Terre, i.e. French Army Light Aviation). They were air-transported by maintainers from the “3e Escadrille de maintenance d’hélicoptères” via Antonov 124.
French forces in Afghanistan are using the Tiger helicopter HAP (“hélicoptère d’appui et de protection“, i.e. close support and protection helicopter) for armed reconnaissance and fire support for the ground troops. The French operate the Tiger as an escort of the new Caracal, while dual Gazelle-Tiger patrols are being considered: “Mostly used to escort Caracal helicopters or hardened convoys, the Tiger enjoys a strong deterrent effect. No helo has been hit since their initial deployment, even though the conditions of operation are especially tough. Stationary flights, which equal vulnerability, are out of the question, so the Tiger never slows down under the 150km/h limit [about 90 m/h]. Ready to take off in less than half an hour, they operate … like the cavalry flying out to rescue their mates on the ground and it is the vocation of the ALAT”, concludes the French website “Helico Passion“.
After six months of deployment, the Tiger has indeed performed well in the challenging climate and altitude conditions of Afghanistan: according to Asian Defence, “the Tigers put in around 30 hours of flight time each per month in support of the French Forces and the ISAF (…). Depending on the situation, the Tiger can fly at a high altitude or at tactical combat flight profile (…). Since arriving in the Afghan theater of operations, the Tiger helicopters have maintained an availability level of around 95%”.
The French MOD plans to order 80 of the new EADS Eurocopter helicopters.
Photos credit: Thomas Goisque, 2009 (copyright: EADS)
(some of these pictures were first published last September in the French magazine Paris-Match)
***Posted February 1st, 2010