Challenges and priorities
The Eurocopter Tiger is a landmark car in every sense. This is the first pan-European attack helicopter. And one of the most ambitious military programs of a conditionally united Europe. Despite its formal success, it once again showed how tight the arms market really is, especially when it comes to expensive systems such as attack helicopters. From 1991 to the present day, about 200 Eurocopter Tigers have been built. For comparison, over 1,600 AH-64 helicopters were built during the entire production period. In addition to the Europeans themselves (France, Germany, Spain), the Tiger was bought only by the Australians.
Another problem is technical difficulties, which quite often made themselves felt. In 2018, it became known that of the seven Eurocopter Tiger that entered the German troops during that current period, only two were serviceable. At the same time, the program itself is voiced as “Rage of the Tiger” – very ambitious.
Difficulties of a conceptual nature raise no fewer questions. For all its advantages, the helicopter can no longer be fully considered modern. The German version – Tiger UHT (Unterstutzungshubschrauber Tiger) – does not have a built-in cannon. Versions for the French Armed Forces – Tiger HAP (Helicoptere d’Appuit et de Protection) and Tiger HAC (Helicoptere Anti-Char) – de facto cannot use anti-tank guided missiles that would meet the requirements of our time.
The American AGM-114K Hellfire II used by the French now were good by the standards of the 90s. However, now a missile with a semi-active laser guidance system can no longer be considered truly modern. Its effectiveness is traditionally influenced by the conditions of use. In addition (and this is perhaps even more important), after launch, the crew is forced to hold the mark on the target, which constrains the helicopter in a defensive maneuver. The more advanced AGM-114L Longbow Hellfire, following the “fire and forget” principle, can be used by the AH-64D / E, but not by the Eurocopter.
France intends to eliminate the main disadvantage of its helicopters in the foreseeable future. On November 13, during a visit to the MBDA enterprise, French Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly announced the issuance of an agreement to the association, which implies the development of a new complex for army aviation helicopters. The program was named Future Tactical Air-to-Surface Missile (MAST-F).
The product concept is based on the MHT / MLP (Missile Haut de Trame / Missile Longue Portée) rocket project, which in turn is based on the MMP (Missile moyenne portée).
Florence Parley said on Twitter:
“With MHT, France is making a choice for sovereignty, support for our national industry and our freedom of action.”
It is pertinent to recall that the MMP is the latest fifth-generation French anti-tank missile system, created to replace Milan and Javelin. The French adopted it in 2017. Missile moyenne portée has a combined guidance system, combining thermal and television homing heads, inertial navigation system, and fiber optic guidance. The complex implements the “fire and forget” principle. The missile’s flight range exceeds 4 kilometers.
As for a promising rocket for helicopters, its range should be more than 8 kilometers when launched from a low altitude. The product has a mass of 20 percent less than that of similar weapons of the same category, which makes it possible to increase the combat radius of the helicopter. In total, “Tiger” will be able to carry eight missiles of a new type.
Of course, the nominal range and even the weight of the product alone mean little now. Much more important is another question: the method of missile guidance and control. It is known that they want to equip the product with a two-channel (optical-television and thermal imaging type IIR) homing head. It will be supplemented by a two-way information transmission system, which will give the operator the opportunity to re-target the missile at another object after its launch. It is also known that they want to equip the missile with a multipurpose warhead, which will effectively hit both tanks, armored personnel carriers and infantry fighting vehicles, and unarmored targets.
The value of the agreement, which covers research and development work and a series of half a thousand products, is 700 million euros.
Already now we can say with full confidence that a miracle will not happen in this regard.
In general, a modern anti-tank guided missile is an expensive “pleasure”. Suffice it to say that in June 2006 Germany ordered 680 state-of-the-art PARS 3 LR missiles worth 380 million euros. Deliveries began in 2012. As in the case of the promising French missile, the principle of “fire and forget” is implemented here: the missile has a homing head, and its flight range exceeds seven kilometers.
It is also worth noting that the Spanish Eurocopter Tiger is armed with a rather “formidable” weapon: they have the latest Israeli Rafael Spike-LR complexes.
Against the background of analogs
Thus, equipping the French Eurocopter Tiger with a new missile will bring the helicopter closer to the capabilities of other “Tigers”, and (with a high degree of probability), in terms of the amount of combat qualities, the vehicles of the French army will even surpass them.
It should be noted that experts assess the German PARS 3 LR ambiguously. This concerns not only the price, but its technical readiness. On the other hand, the French, who were once part of this project, still have a long way to go to fine-tune a new product.
This will happen against the background of the adoption by the Americans of a replacement for the Hellfire – the AGM-179 JAGM missile. It has a multi-mode homing head, the “fire and forget” principle and, in general, is conceptually close to the rocket being created as part of the MAST-F program.
Simply put, the French were here in the role of catch-up (we are not talking about the infantry Missile moyenne portée). However, this does not fundamentally change anything. Another thing is important: MBDA has long proved that it has technologies that allow the development and mass production of new generation anti-tank missile systems. As they say in France:
“To want is to be able” (Vouloir c’est pouvoir).
And it’s good when ambitions do not diverge from the real capabilities of the military-industrial complex. It’s bad when it’s different.
As for the world market, the new MBDA product, provided that its price is not too high, will be able to impose competition on other “Europeans” and “Americans”.
However, the absence of truly revolutionary technical solutions and the considerable cost of the complex will narrow the circle of potential buyers.