Eurocopter Tiger (Airbus EC665) UHT and HAD variants operated by Internationale Hubschrauberausbildungszentrum (International Helicopter Training Centre) of the German Armed Forces in Bückeburg, taking-off for flying display during Tag der Bundeswehr open doors event, Bückeburg, June 2023.
Eurocopter Tiger is a two-seat attack helicopter developed in the late 1980s within the Franco-German programme of advanced anti-armour and close air support (CAS) rotorcraft.
The binational initiative to create the European helicopter being an equivalent to AH-64 Apache was launched in 1984 and, initially, was led by a joint venture of Aérospatiale and MBB companies. At the time the programme began, each Germany and France planned to acquire more than 200 helicopters for their armed forces.
In 1986, the initial programme had to be cancelled, due to increasing costs and no noticeable results. Then, its framework was significantly changed and three years later, the initiative was reopened again – this time under management of the Eurocopter company. On 27th April 1991, the first prototype of Eurocopter Tiger performed its maiden flight.
However, the development of European attack helicopter had experienced several delays and political scuffles related to potential export customers, as well as financial controversies. In the meantime, the overall political situation in the world changed – mostly due to the collapse of the Soviet Union – which led to reduction of European armed forces and limiting purchases of new military equipment.
The final order for Tiger helicopters was confirmed only in June of 1999. It covered only 160 rotorcraft, split half-and-half between France and Germany. The first serial produced Eurocopter Tiger was presented in 2002, almost eleven years since the maiden flight of the prototype. Official deliveries started as late as at the beginning of 2005.
Despite initial expectations, Eurocopter Tiger did not achieve any international success. The helicopter was proposed in several tenders all over the world but finally was not able to beat the AH-64 Apache in most of them. Finally, only Spain and Australia purchased the Tiger – although in 2019, the latter decided to withdraw the EC665 from active service and replace the Tiger with the AH-64.
For the European customers, the Eurocopter Tiger was manufactured in three main variants. They were Unterstützungshubschrauber Tiger (UHT – Support Helicopter Tiger) for the German armed forces; Hélicoptère d’Appui Protection, later known as Hélicoptère de Combat Polyvalent (HAP and HCP, respectively – Support and Escort Helicopter / Multipurpose Combat Helicopter) for France; and Hélicoptère d’Appui Destruction (HAD – Support and Destruction Helicopter) for France and Spain. In 2015, the French armed forces decided to upgrade all existing rotorcraft to the HAD variant.
In all the three countries the Eurocopter Tiger is operated by the army aviation branches. Combat record of the EC665 was opened in 2009, following the deployment of French Tigers to Afghanistan. In later years, also the Spanish and German rotorcraft of that type participated in military operations there. In addition, the French and German forces used the Eurocopter Tiger in Africa, during operations in Libya and Mali.