The Defence White Paper and its accompanying Integrated Investment Program foreshadows significant new investments in Army Aviation, ranging from the early retirement and replacement of the Tiger Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter (ARH) to the acquisition of a new armed light helicopter for Special Forces support and additional Chinook heavy-lift helicopters.

The early retirement of the Tiger ARH follows on-going issues with the European-developed helicopter’s sustainment and serviceability rates and issues connecting its Eurogrid datalink to other ADF assets and networks that have limited its operational utility. Finally, the Tiger has yet to operate off the Navy’s new LHD amphibious assault ships.

“The Tiger has had a troubled history – essential upgrades are programmed to maintain the capability’s effectiveness,” the Integrated Investment Program document, which was released on Thursday, states.

“Defence will invest in a future armed reconnaissance capability to replace the Tiger, which could include manned or unmanned systems or a combination of both, to be introduced from the mid-2020s.”

The IIP further notes in what looks to be a reference to the issues with integrating Tiger’s Eurogrid datalink: “Armed reconnaissance helicopter operations will rely increasingly on intelligence and mission data and access to the common operating picture and other real-time data for effective integration with joint forces.”

The Army operates 22 Tigers, which entered service from December 2004, but the type has yet to achieve Final Operational Capability, a milestone that was originally planned for June 2009 and had been rescheduled to January 2016.

Instead, rather than persisting with a planned $1-2 billion mid-life upgrade project for the Tiger – listed under the old Defence Capability Plan as AIR 87 Phase 3 Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter Capability Assurance Program (ARH CAP) – the Tigers now look set to be retired early, albeit around 20 years after entering service.

A table in the Integrated Investment Program lists the ‘Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter Replacement’ as having a program timeframe of 2021-2030 at a total acquisition cost of $5-6 billion. (Importantly, the Integrated Investment Program lists “approximate investment values” for capabilities, which includes “enablers” such as base upgrades and infrastructure costs, rather than just acquisition budget costs for hardware alone.)