Australia picks Apache over Tiger in potential $4B helicopter buy

By Dan Parsons | January 15, 2021

Estimated reading time 5 minutes, 7 seconds.

Australia has chosen the Boeing AH-64E Apache as its armed reconnaissance helicopter to replace the Airbus Tiger helicopters it currently flies in that role. 

Minister for Defense Linda Reynolds made the announcement Jan. 15 that Australia would purchase Apaches beginning in 2025. The deal has not been approved by the U.S. State Department, but likely will be as Australia is a close ally and key defense partner nation in the Asia Pacific. 

Australia’s Minister for Defence described the Apache Guardian as “the most lethal, most survivable and lowest risk option” considered in the selection of a replacement for the Army’s Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter. Boeing Image

Reports indicate Australia will buy at least 29 AH-64Es, engines, spare parts, equipment, training devices and weapons for an estimated $4 billion. 

Australia evaluated several attack helicopters to fill the ARH role, including the Apache and Bell AH-1Z Viper. While the Viper is a slightly smaller helicopter based on an older airframe, it is operated by the U.S. Marine Corps which regularly deploys to Australia and operates from Navy ships throughout the Asia-Pacific region. The Viper is also designed for maritime use and stowage aboard ship, whereas the Apache is primarily operated by land forces, though the U.S. Army has been deploying with them to the Pacific in recent years. 

Airbus made a late-game pitch to replace Australia’s 22-Tiger fleet with new airframes sourced from existing European stock — the Tiger production line is no longer running — and promised to save the country $3 billion in acquisitions costs.

In a statement, Reynolds highlighted the Apache’s sensors, communications and attack capabilities, and survivability. Choosing the Apache promotes interoperability with the U.S. Army and other allies like Japan, Singapore and the U.K. Australia’s decision could also nudge the Philippines in Boeing’s direction. That nation is currently wrestling with whether to buy the AH-64E or AH-1Z. 

“This new ARH capability will strengthen Australia’s armed reconnaissance force to better shape our strategic environment and deter actions against our national interest,” Reynolds said. “Defense considered a number of helicopters against key criteria of proven ability, maturity and an off-the-shelf operating system. The Apache Guardian is the most lethal, most survivable and lowest risk option, meeting all of Defense’s capability, through-life support, security, and certification requirements. By pursuing a proven and low-risk system offered by the Apache, Defense will avoid the ongoing cost and schedule risk typically associated with developmental platforms.”

Australia will have just upgraded its attack helicopter fleet — the 29 new Apaches should be operational by 2029 — when the U.S. Army begins fielding the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft in the 2030s.

Remanufacturing its Tiger fleet would have put Australia in line to join that program as other U.S. allies have suggested they could do. In its bid, Airbus offered to assemble at least some of the new Tigers in Australia.

Reynolds said the country still has opportunities to buoy its domestic defense industry. Detailed transition planning will be conducted to ensure effective management of the skilled workforce, across Defense and industry, as Defense transitions the Tiger to the Apache, Reynolds said.

“The project will deliver on the government’s vision to maximize Australian industry involvement in defense capability,” Reynolds said. “There are potential opportunities for Australian industry in logistic support, warehousing services, training development, engineering services, and maintenance, repair and overhaul. Maximizing these opportunities for Australian businesses will enable the future growth of our local rotary-wing industry and will present opportunities for Australian industry involvement in the aircraft’s global supply chain.”

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