The government of Australia has confirmed that it has selected the Boeing AH-64E Apache Guardian for its Land 4503 helicopter program to provide armed reconnaissance helicopters for the Australian Army Aviation Corps (AAAC). The choice of the Apache edges out the Bell AH-1Z Viper and effectively seals the fate of the incumbent Airbus Tiger Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter (ARH).
"The Apache Guardian is the most lethal, most survivable, and lowest-risk option, meeting all of [the Ministry of] Defence's capability, through-life support, security, and certification requirements," said defense minister Linda Reynolds in announcing the selection on January 15. "By pursuing a proven and low-risk system offered by the Apache, Defence will avoid the ongoing cost and schedule risk typically associated with developmental platforms."
Although she did not spell out the total number of helicopters to be procured, the program calls for 29 helicopters, including five for training. The project is expected to be worth A$4-5 billion ($3.1-3.9bn). The first Apache is expected to enter service in 2025 and the first squadron of 12 helicopters is scheduled to reach initial operational capability by 2026.
Boeing says the Apache is the only platform that meets all of the Land 4503 program requirements without modification and offers the Link 16 tactical datalink and Manned-Unmanned Teaming Unmanned Aerial System integration capabilities.
Airbus has been desperately trying to retain Australia as a Tiger user by offering upgrades to the 22 Tigers that would see the helicopter operating until 2040, resulting in A$3 billion in savings. The European manufacturer also was sourcing seven pre-owned Tigers to fulfill Australia’s requirement, since the Tiger production lines are now closed.
Australia is known to have been dissatisfied with the performance of the Tiger helicopters after a nine-year delay to fully operationalize the program, as well as reporting high engine maintenance costs and tardy spares availability. However, Airbus said that the ARH operating costs have reduced by 30 percent and that sortie-completion rates are now in excess of 95 percent, with more than 30,000 flight hours now completed.