• The Tiger helicopters land on HMAS Canberra’s flight deck.
    The Tiger helicopters land on HMAS Canberra’s flight deck. Defence

The Australian Army Aviation Corps (AAvn) has deployed its Tiger Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter overseas for only the second time in its 15-year operational history.

Four Tigers are currently embarked aboard HMAS Canberra in South East Asian waters to participate in Indo-Pacific Endeavour (IPE) 2019. The helicopters, from AAvn’s 162 Reconnaissance Squadron/1st Aviation Regiment based in Darwin, are also using the embarked period to work up an ARH amphibious capability under Plan Kestrel – Army’s roadmap for the development of an amphibious Air Combat Element (ACE), comprising Tiger ARH, MRH90 Taipan and CH-47F Chinook helicopters.

“The purpose of the deployment of the ARH Tigers is to develop an ARH capability as part of Plan Kestrel. This is in preparation for Exercise Sea Series 19, where it is expected the Australian Amphibious Force, under Joint Project 2048, will achieve Final Operational Capability (FOC),” Brigadier Stephen Jobson, Commander 16th Aviation Brigade, said.

“The embarkation of the 1st Aviation Regiment detachment facilitates the development of ARH interoperability with Australia’s two Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD) ships and the deck landing qualification and proficiency for the 1st Aviation Regiment aircrew. Additionally, the deployment will increase the deck handling proficiency of the HMAS Canberra crew through the familiarisation with ARH deck operations.”

The four helicopters were flown to Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) Base Subang, on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, from Darwin aboard an RAAF C-17A transport and after reassembly they embarked aboard HMAS Canberra, then alongside at nearby Port Klang.

Commanding Officer of the 1st Aviation Regiment, Lieutenant Colonel Dan Bartle, said the Tiger deployment during IPE 19 follows on from the recent successful First of Class Flight Trials (FOCFT) with the LHD. The focus of 162 Recce Sqn is the deck landing qualifications of young aircrew and integrating maintenance, mission support and armament teams into the ship’s aviation department to increase the safety and efficiency of embarked ARK operations.

The four Tigers will remain aboard Canberra as the ship returns to Australian waters at the conclusion of IPE 19 in the second half of May and transitions into the Sea Series 19 exercises, which will culminate with Talisman Sabre 19 in July.

“We needed this four or five-week period (of IPE 19) to prepare ourselves for the Sea Series amphibious exercise,” LTCOL Bartle explained. “We’re focussing on building deck landing qualifications for the aircrew and transferring some of the experience that’s resident in our more senior refuelling and rearming team and the maintenance and mission support personnel, transferring the lessons learned from people who have participated on previous activities down to junior soldiers.”

The Air Combat Element for Sea Series 19 will be made up of all three of AAvn’s operational helicopter types for the first time and follows qualification of the CH-47F Chinook last year in Sea Series 18.

“Tiger’s strengths in the ACE role are that it is truly an Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter, so as well as being capable of the more traditional attack roles,” said LTCOL Bartle. “The ARH is a fantastic reconnaissance platform, both visually and with its sensors, so we can provide the eyes and ears of the Force Commander as the amphibious force goes ashore. What we really bring to the fight is greatly increased security and for the amphibious task force when it is most vulnerable and we do that through surface or air escort missions, reconnaissance missions and, when required, attack missions.”

The first overseas deployment of the ARH was in August 2015, for an exercise with the Papua New Guinea Defence Force’s (PNGDF) Air Transport Wing in Port Moresby.

For more details of Army’s Plan Kestrel and the formation of an Aviation Combat Element, see ‘Shaping the Joint Force – Exercise Hamel 2018’ in the September 2018 issue of ADM.

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