CANBERRA, Australia, Dec. 8 (UPI) -- Australian Aerospace delivered the last of 22 Tiger armed reconnaissance helicopters to the army at the company's final assembly plant at Brisbane Airport.
Australian Aerospace, a division of Eurocopter, won the $2 billion Project AIR 87 contract in 2001. The Tigers are to replace the military's Bell UH-1-H Iroquois "Bushranger" gunships and Bell OH-58 Kiowa reconnaissance helicopters.
The first four of the two-seat lightweight helicopters were manufactured in France, with the rest assembled in Brisbane.
"This is a great day for army aviation, the Australian defense force and for Australian Aerospace," Australian Aerospace Chief Executive Officer Jens Goennemann said. "The Tiger ARH has been a complex and demanding program and one not without its fair share of challenges."
Australian Aerospace said it invested $40 million in its Australian operations for the ARH Tiger program, which created 220 jobs. The manufacturer estimates that more than $640 million has been injected into the Australian economy through flow-on benefits.
Australian Aerospace is responsible for overall program management and through-life support, as well as assembly and delivery of ground-crew training devices.
Kellogg Brown and Root, together with Thales Training and Simulation, is developing and supporting the training program, including providing air-crew training devices.
Thales Australia updated the avionics and mission systems. It also developed and manufactured the ground mission planning and control system.
Avalon Systems, with support from the European original equipment manufacturers, is developing the electronic warfare mission support system.
Australia's Tigers are versions of the Tiger HAP, in service with France since 2002, and has two upgraded MTR390 engines from MTU Turbomeca Rolls-Royce. The turbo-shaft engine is specifically for light helicopters of which the Eurocopter Tiger is the MTR390's first application.
Germany has a version of the Tiger, the UHT, which is more heavily armed and is used as an anti-tank weapon.
Australian Aerospace has remained upbeat throughout the year despite its NH90 NFH helicopter losing out to Sikorsky in a major $3 billion combat helicopter deal.
In June, Defense Minister Stephen Smith announced Australia was buying 24 Sikorsky-Lockheed-Martin MH-60R "Romeo" Seahawk combat helicopters under the Air 9000 Phase 8 contract.
Smith said the U.S.-built Romeo helicopters will replace the existing Seahawk fleet and will come into service between 2014 and 2020.
"It's a proven capability, being used by the U.S. Navy. It is the updated version of the Seahawk that we currently use and which it is replacing," Smith said when making the announcement.
"It's interoperable with our alliance partner the United States and because of its proven capability, it's low risk. We very strongly believe it's value for money."
After Smith's announcement in June, Goennemann said Australian Aerospace remains committed to the country's defense sector. Although disappointed with Smith's decision, the company will continue to explore opportunities and try to maintain its workforce, helped by its Tiger contract and that for supplying 46 MRH90 multi-role helicopters to the army and navy.
"While the federal government's decision means we won't be able to create the 750 highly skilled, long-term jobs we planned, Australian Aerospace will continue to employ staff working on our present programs," Goennemann said.
"The current MRH90 and ARH Tiger assembly and associated Through-Life Support contracts, Fixed-Wing Programs and civilian activities will keep our Brisbane plant and other facilities across Australia operating at a high level."