Since August 10, 2009, the three Tiger combat helicopters deployed by France in Kabul have been playing an active operational role in Afghanistan.
After arriving in Afghanistan in July 2009, the three helicopters from the 5th Combat Helicopters Regiment, Pau, first of all underwent firing certification tests. These tests were successfully completed, and the Tigers and their crews were then granted “full operational capability”, authorizing them to serve as part of the ISAF (International Security Assistance Force).
They are today part of the “Musketeer Task Force” which comprises the 11 French helicopters deployed at Kabul airport (three EC725 Caracals, two AS 532 Cougars, three SA 342 Gazelles and three EC 665 Tigers).
Availability and reliability
The Tigers put in around 30 hours of flight time each per month in support of the French Forces and the ISAF. The aircraft and their crews also remain on alert day and night, ready to scramble at short notice in order to take part in all kinds of missions: reconnaissance, escort, fire support, etc. The first five months of operation have demonstrated that the helicopter is highly reliable, that its engines are capable of handling the most extreme flight conditions and that its weapons system is well-suited to operational requirements.
Depending on the situation, the Tiger can fly at a high altitude or at tactical combat flight profile in order to avoid small arms fire while benefiting from an accurate view of the combat environment thanks to the power of the Strix visor designed by Sagem (Safran group). The crews are also impressed by the complementarity of the various optical, TV and thermal imaging channels.
The engines – two MTR 390 turbines (MTU / Rolls-Royce / Turbomeca – Safran group) – are able to take the harsh conditions of the region in their stride. Despite the altitude of Kabul airport (1,800 m) and temperatures in excess of 35°C in the summer, the Tiger has always been able to operate at its maximum take-off weight of 6.4 metric tons for missions lasting up to three hours.
Since arriving in the Afghan theater of operations, the Tiger helicopters have maintained an availability level of around 95%: a remarkable statistic for such a relatively young aircraft.