Australia’s defence capability will be bolstered, with the glitch-prone Tiger helicopter to be replaced by a fleet of Apache’s armed reconnaissance helicopter (ARH).
The federal government has approved the purchase of up to 29 Boeing AH-64E Apache Guardian helicopters, replacing a fleet of 22 Tiger ARHs.
The model is flown in the US and 15 other countries and is fitted with upgraded sensors, improved attack capabilities and improved survivability.
The Tiger model had been plagued by malfunctions, with repairs taking its per-hour flying cost to an estimated $34,000.
Defence Minister Linda Reynolds said the government had considered a range of models to replace it but settled on the “low risk” Apache.
“This new ARH capability will strengthen Australia’s armed reconnaissance force to better shape our strategic environment and deter actions against our national interest,” she said.
“The Apache Guardian is the most lethal, most survivable and lowest risk option, meeting all of Defence’s capability through-life support, security and certification requirements.
“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.”
Friday’s announcement was the first step towards the approval, with cost to be confirmed after Foreign Military Sales processes.
Speaking to The Australian in December, Liberal MP and Afghanistan war veteran Phil Thompson described the Apache as “the Digger’s choice”.
Tiger manufacturer Airbus Helicopters had urged the government to extend its use of the model, which is flown by various European countries, until 2040.
But Defence conceded issues with the model had prompted it to look for a “proven, mature” replacement.
Ms Reynolds said the Apache purchase would create openings for Australian business, including engineering, training development and logistic support.
“The project will deliver on the government’s vision to maximise Australian industry involvement in defence capability,” she said.
“Maximising these opportunities for Australian businesses will enable the future growth of our local rotary wing industry and will present opportunities for Australian industry involvement in the aircraft’s global supply chain.”