Australia selects Boeing Apache as next armed reconnaissance helicopter

From Defense News, a division of
Sightline Media Group

MELBOURNE, Australia — Australia has selected Boeing’s AH-64E Apache Guardian as it’s next armed reconnaissance helicopter, replacing its Airbus Helicopters Tiger fleet under the Land 4503 program estimated to be worth AU$4-5 billion (U.S. $3–3.8 billion).

The selection of the Apache follows the release of a request for information in July 2019 and was announced by Australian Defence Minister Linda Reynolds on Friday.

The RFI called for 29 helicopters, with 24 to be based at a single location with two operational armed recon helo squadrons, and a five for training Army pilots and battle captains at the Australian Army Aviation Training Centre at Oakey, Queensland. The two operational Tiger squadrons are currently based in Darwin in the Northern Territory as part of the 1st Aviation Regiment.

The RFI also stipulated an initial operational capability, represented by 12 helicopters, in 2026; and final operational capability with all 29 aircraft two years later.

In addition to Boeing, Bell responded to the RFI with its AH-1Z Viper, and Airbus Helicopters with an updated Tiger.

“The Apache Guardian is the most lethal, most survivable and lowest-risk option, meeting all of [the Department of] Defence’s capability, through-life support, security and certification requirements,” Reynolds said. “By pursuing a proven and low-risk system offered by the Apache, [the Department of] Defence will avoid the ongoing cost and schedule risk typically associated with developmental platforms.”

The Tiger was introduced to service in December 2004 but suffered poor availability rates and high ownership costs early in its career, before a remediation plan was implemented by the Department of Defence and industry around 2016.

Reynolds said the issues with the Tiger fleet and other Australian military rotary-wing projects had informed the strategy to seek a proven and mature replacement.

The decision to acquire the Apache was made under the Australian government’s “Smart Buyer” policy, which allows for sole-source selection without a competition if there is a clear preference for a particular platform.

A spokesman for Australia’s Department of Defence said the government will now consider the acquisition of mission sensors and mission-relevant equipment, including the AN/APG-78 Longbow fire control radar, but no specific configuration or numbers of radars have been revealed.

The spokesman said the department will continue to consider options to improve upon the Apache that maximize opportunities for the local defense industry, including warehousing services, training development, engineering services and maintenance, and repair and overhaul.

“Additionally, early detailed transition planning will be conducted to ensure effective management of the skilled workforce, across [the Department of] Defence and industry, as [the Department of] Defence transitions the Tiger to the Apache,” the spokesman said.

Boeing said the AH-64E provides Australia with a fully integrated, battle-proven capability and will continue to expand its industry capability and supply chain in Australia.

“Apache is supported by an active production line and a U.S. Army modernization plan through to the late 2040s, thereby ensuring the platform remains the leading attack and reconnaissance capability through to 2050 and beyond,” a company spokesperson said.

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