In May 2018, Florence Parly, then Minister of the Armed Forces, congratulated herself on the launch of the Tigre Mk3 program “in cooperation with Germany” [although Spain was also participating], underlining a “new step for the defense of Europe and the consolidation of our industry.”

As a reminder, the objective was to carry out a mid-life upgrade of the Tiger attack helicopter to standard 3. Carried out under the auspices of the Joint Organization for Cooperation in Armaments [OCCAr], this operation consisted of adapting this helicopter to collaborative combat [providing it with the ability to control drones], addressing its obsolescence, and integrating new avionics and other capabilities. The goal was to have the first aircraft in service before 2030.

However, since the Parly announcement, Germany has withdrawn from this program, which has not prevented France and Spain from launching it in March 2022, with lowered ambitions. Paris had planned to spend 2.8 billion euros to modernize 42 of the 67 helicopters of the French Army’s light aviation corps [ALAT].

Until the last moment, the French authorities trusted that Germany would resume this program. But it was unlikely since the German Defense Ministry was apparently planning to buy American AH-64E Apache/Guardian helicopters.

The Mk3 Tiger program has not been confirmed in the Military Programming Law [LPM] 2024-30. According to General Pierre Schill, Chief of the General Staff of the French Land Army [CEMAT], it will be a matter of “taking into account the elements that the conflict in Ukraine will provide us to specify the conditions of use of these helicopters, in particular depending on the evolution of aerial drone capability.” 

However, the French ALAT will have all its 67 Standard 2 Tigres available by 2030. And they will remain in service at least until 2035.

In Germany, on the other hand, the end of the Tiger is already foreseen: the 51 aircraft deployed by the Bundeswehr will be phased out of service from 2031, and the last aircraft will be withdrawn in 2038. According to a spokeswoman for the German Defense Ministry to the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper on May 13.

The German military will withdraw its Tiger attack helicopters from service between 2031 and 2038.

“Participation in the Tiger Mk III program would have been very risky in terms of costs and timing,” the spokeswoman stressed. Above all, taking into account that the devices still in use by the Bundeswehr have a very low availability rate: in April 2022, only nine devices were operational…

According to current plans, the last German Tiger attack helicopter will be retired in 2038,” the spokeswoman told Süddeutsche Zeitung. “The Bundeswehr is considering the purchase of commercially available light attack helicopters,” she added, saying nothing other than that the German Defense Ministry is currently working on “future-oriented solutions.”

One of these solutions would be the purchase of additional H145M light helicopters from Airbus Helicopters [the Kommando Spezialkräfte of the German special forces already has 15 of these helicopters]. Last March, there was talk of an order for 82 of these helicopters for around 3,000 million euros… and to equip two dozen of them with anti-tank capabilities.

In 2022, the think tank Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik [SWP] examined the options available should Berlin give up on the Tiger Mk3. It warned that this perspective “could have repercussions on the whole of Franco-German cooperation in the field of armaments” and also cause a “loss of industrial capacity for the production of combat helicopters in Germany.”

The SWP had also mentioned the possibility of purchasing H145M or H160M light helicopters. This solution, which was to be ‘provisional,’ was to be seen as a ‘compromise between the political will to cooperate with France and the strengthening of the European industrial base.’

Laurent Lagneau