Is Defence suddenly shy?
They are certainly not putting out nearly as many press releases as they used to.
Operation Fiji Assist is one recent example – and I have a whole other rant about that in the next issue of CONTACT, out 1 June, so I won’t pursue it here.
Another classic and downright disturbing example is in relation to Tiger helicopter.
“Tiger ARH is a world-class armed reconnaissance helicopter capable of multi-role excellence,” according to the Army’s web site.
Yet, in the recently released Defence White Paper, a planned mid-life upgrade of Tiger will not go ahead and this ‘excellent’ helicopter will retire and be replace years ahead of schedule and less than 10 years after achieving Final Operating Capability.
And this is what’s bugging me right now – Final Operating Capability is a very big deal in the lifecycle of any Defence platform, and is something Defence media is usually very quick to trumpet loudly from the rooftops when it is achieved.
But not with Tiger.
Probably because Tiger formally achieved this most significant milestone a handful of weeks after the White Paper announcement that the ‘troubled’ helicopter and its support systems were so bad that replacement considerations are already well advanced.
And [note added Oct 2017] because FOC comes with nine caveats that, according to Chief of Army Lieutenant General Angus Campbell, “we would have to consider either the nature of the operations or the flight envelope in which the aircraft was operating in order to find other ways to mitigate or prevent those lesser capability outcomes being of concern to us on operations”.
So, Tiger ARH’s FOC milestone was completely ignored by Defence and the government – no press release, no report in ARMY newspaper, no social media posts or tweets (that I saw).
FOC formally happened more than a month ago – and I only found out about it yesterday via Australian Aviation.
This prestigious magazine quotes Commander 16 Aviation Brigade Brigadier Michael Prictor as saying, “… it truly is an extraordinary piece of equipment.”
Which the ADF and the government don’t want to talk about or promote.
Even the usually very prolific Airbus media team didn’t put out a press release on this topic.
But Airbus Group Australia Pacific Managing Director, retired Brigadier Tony Frazer – the former Head of Helicopter Systems Division in DMO responsible for Tiger’s introduction into service – is quoted in the Australian Aviation story as welcoming FOC attainment.
“It has been a while coming but we are indebted to Army and the Defence project teams, and are equally committed to making sure the crews, Defence and government have the confidence to deploy ARH Tiger should they need to do so,” Mr Fraser told Australian Aviation.
Lieutenant General Angus Campbell isn’t as optimistic, as quoted above from a Senate Estimates hearing some 18 months later, adding that the aircraft was ‘unlikely to ever reach its original capability targets’.