Launching the Tiger Mk III Program: Next Steps in European Defense Industrial Cooperation


By Pierre Tran

Paris – An announced deal for the upgrade of 60 Airbus Helicopters Tiger attack helicopters, flown by the French and Spanish forces, was worth €4 billion ($4.4 billion) for the first batch of work, a senior source said.

France will pay €2.8 billion for the upgrade of 42 Tigers to Mk3 standard, while Spain will pay €1.2 billion for 18 units, and that was “for the first bloc,” the source said. In total, “it is €8 billion for everything.”

OCCAR, a European procurement agency, has awarded a contract to Airbus Helicopters for “the upgrade of 42 aircraft for France (with the possibility to add another 25 helicopters) and 18 for Spain,” the Airbus unit said March 2 in a statement.

That deal for a midlife upgrade of the helicopter left the door open for Germany to join the program. Germany’s absence from the project has raised concern in France, with critics pointing to a lack of cooperation from Berlin on joint military projects.

“In addition, the contract provides the possibility for Germany to later join the Tiger Mk III program,” Airbus Helicopters said.

There have been media reports of Berlin’s interest in ordering Boeing Apache AH-64 attack helicopters, effectively to replace the Tiger, which was launched as a joint Franco-German program against a then perceived threat from Warsaw Pact forces.

That reported interest in ordering U.S. helicopters stemmed from a lack of availability of the Tiger for the German army.

Spain will also acquire a new air-to-ground missile in its upgrade, along with fitting a 70 mm guided rocket, the Airbus unit said.

Spain has yet to decide which air-to-ground weapon it will order, raising the question whether Madrid will opt for a version of the Rafael Spike missile or the MBDA MAST-F (Future Tactical Air-to-Surface Missile), a second senior source said. Spanish army Tigers already fly with the Spike weapon.

As France has already paid for the development of the MAST-F, Spain would be buying the weapon off the shelf.

The French Tiger Mk3 will add the MAST-F and an upgraded Mistral 3 air-to-air missile to its arms inventory, Airbus Helicopter said.

France was ordering 500 MAST-F missiles for €700 million by the end of 2020, business website La Tribune reported Nov. 14 2020.

That meant MBDA has been paid for development of the MAST-F, and the Mistral 3 is an upgraded version of the Mistral already fitted on the Tiger, the second source said. MBDA would be paid simply for integration of these weapons on the Tiger Mk3.

Among the upgrades are Thales FlytX avionics and Topowl digital display helmet-mounted sight, and upgraded Indra identification friend or foe system, Airbus Helicopters said.

Safran’s electronics and defense unit said March 3 in a statement it had won a contract from OCCAR for 85 Euroflir 510 electro-optical sights for the Tiger MK3. The optronic sights will be part of the weapon system, allowing identification of threat in night and day.

The communications system will use Thales Contact radio to plug into the French army’s Scorpion network and the helicopter can hook up with unmanned aerial vehicles, Thales said in a March 2 statement.

OCCAR signed the contract with Airbus Helicopters on behalf of the French and Spanish defense procurement agencies, Airbus Helicopter said. Development and upgrade work will be conducted in Albacete, southeast Spain, Marignane, southern France, and Donauwörth in southern Germany.

Featured Graphic: Airbus