Tiger helicopter pilots train in simulators from Rheinmetall Defence Electronics
Powerful helicopter to protect troops on the ground
Now that the Tiger helicopter has been granted approval to operate in German airspace, it is planned to dispatch four of the advanced helicopters to Afghanistan to protect German ground forces from autumn 2012 onwards.
At the press day of the Airborne Brigade 1 at Fritzlar the powerful helicopter performed its first close air support flight in front of an interested audience. The impressive performance at the Schwarzenborn, Germany, demonstrated the type of operations carried out to support ground troops under attack. Yet, before the two-man crew is actually combat mission ready, pilots have to conduct a series of training routines in full mission simulators. These simulation systems from Bremen-based simulation specialist Rheinmetall Defence Electronics incorporate an exact reproduction of the cockpit and special mission training software to generate realistic flight conditions for tactical air manoeuvres.
Colonel Ulrich Werner Ott, commander of the attack helicopter regiment 36 “Kurhessen” welcomed the successful completion of the certification procedure, saying that the helicopter now qualified for a “real” number plate. The support helicopter Tiger (UHT) was given full approval to fly over German airspace in March 2011. The go-ahead by the German aviation authority is an important milestone: provided existing procurement plans remain unaffected by the ongoing reform of the German Bundeswehr, the German armed forces will take delivery of 80 Tiger attack helicopters in the coming years. The helicopter built by Eurocopter under a Franco-German cooperation program currently has a unit price of around 40 million €. “Six of the total of nine Tiger helicopters stationed with the attack helicopter regiment 36 have been granted full airworthiness approval”, says Brigadier General Jürgen Setzer, commander of the Airborne Brigade 1. The German army presently has 13 advanced Tiger helicopters.
The Army has been waiting for the Tiger for some time. It is to give German soldiers in Afghanistan the support they long to have to protect them from the air: firepower coupled with high-precision sensor systems. The advanced helicopter combines both; it has a mast-mounted sight with long-range reconnaissance opto-electronic equipment as well as two stub-wings for variable weapon tubes. Attached laterally to the fuselage, these mounts can alternatively accommodate two air defence rockets, four anti-tank guided missiles, 19 unguided missiles and a 12.7 mm MG pod. The focus is now on pilot training in order to achieve combat mission ready status in the late summer of 2012.
Germany presently plans to have four such helicopters patrolling the close air space in the northern region of Afghanistan from October 2012 onwards. Two of the helicopters will serve as a technical reserve. The mission profile will be “reconnaissance, surveillance and convoy protection”. Operating with the German infantry, the attack helicopter will allow precise air strikes, i.e. high-precision fire will put hostile Taliban insurgents out of action. In view of the planned withdrawal of German forces from Afghanistan in the near future, two things are to be avoided at all events: in the words of General Setzer, collateral damage to civilians and losses due to friendly fire are definitely to be prevented.
The manner in which airborne combat with the Tiger helicopter could possibly be conducted in Afghanistan was recently demonstrated at the military training grounds in Schwarzenborn. Four Fuchs armoured personnel carriers with very quiet engines approached from the left along a dirt track. After a short stop for orientation, the patrol moved on. Shortly afterwards, the vehicles were brought to a sudden halt because the front vehicle had been ambushed by a large explosive charge. Hostile MG fire came from all directions and a controlled escape from the stranglehold seemed nearly impossible.
Time for the Tiger to demonstrate its capabilities as a flexible mission support helicopter. The ambushed patrol soon requested close air combat support. Following a standardised approach routine managed by the forward air controller (FAW) – being an experienced aircraft control specialist who regularly accompanies patrols – the two Tiger helicopters quickly reconnoitred and attacked the Taliban hideouts. Within seconds and with surgical precision, the sources of the danger were eliminated by the two helicopters. End of the exercise.
One of the messages brought across by the airborne manoeuvre was clear: with a view to the planned short-term availability of the helicopters in Afghanistan, the re-training of former BO-105 helicopters on Tiger helicopters has become an urgent requirement. French helicopter pilots have already set an example. Three French versions of the Tiger support and escort helicopter HAP (Hélicoptère d’Appui et Protection) have been operating in the Kabul region since August 2009. French crews have reported that the helicopter has been reliable and has shown good endurance in operation. Mission flying presupposes not only real flight training but also simulator-based training exercises.
Working in cooperation with Thales Services, Rheinmetall Defence Electronics already started to develop training equipment for the Tiger helicopter in 2000. At that time, two full mission simulators (FMS), two cockpit procedure trainers (CPT) and several hundred hours of courseware (CAT) were developed for the German and French version of the Tiger and taken into operation at the Franco-German army aviation training center in Le Luc (France). Between 2005 and 2010, ten further FMS and twelve CPT systems were produced, says engineer Manfred Fecht, Tiger program manager at Rheinmetall Defence Electronics GmbH in Bremen. All simulators are in use with the French and German army aviation services.
Contrary to the NH 90 simulator, the design of the Tiger simulator had to allow for a particular design aspect of the helicopter: the tandem arrangement of the pilot seats at different levels in the helicopter resulting in different viewing angles meant that the artificial environment could not be visualised in one dome. “Technically, this problem could not be solved in one dome so that there are now two electronically coupled simulator domes presenting identical scenarios from the geometrically correct field of view – either that of the pilot or of the weapon system officer”, says Fecht.
The main challenge at that stage was that the simulator was to provide a realistic reproduction of the Tiger although the helicopter was not yet fully defined when the simulator was being developed and series-produced. Reason enough for computer scientist Fecht to be proud of the achievement. 26 simulators are actively used in France and Germany. For instance, the combat helicopter regiment 36 at Fritzlar has two full mission simulators and two cockpit procedure trainers. The same applies to the other German helicopter base in Roth. The French Le Luc facility – as the Franco-German army aviation center for all Tiger pilots – has the same constellation four times over. And no matter where the simulators are located in Germany and France, networked training in combined combat helicopter units is already possible today.
Terrain databases for the mission area in Afghanistan and for the locations at Fritzlar and Le Luc are available to warrant efficient training. Development of further databases is ongoing.
Another important feature is that the simulators can be re-configured within just two hours, depending on the national crew in the German UHT or the French HAP version. This allows optimal utilisation of the simulators to train German or French pilots. An additional French version (HAD) is planned in future.
Two further cockpit procedure trainers are available at the 5th combat helicopter regiment in Pau. This enables French personnel to practice tactical helicopter operations in Afghanistan in a simulator before being sent to Afghanistan.
Since being taken into operation, all 26 simulators have been given full support in daily operation by the cooperation between Rheinmetall and Thales. Maintenance teams in situ guarantee 95% availability and thus help to ensure that helicopter pilots are given the best possible training wherever the location.
Rheinmetall Defence Electronics will continue to support the Tiger helicopter program in the coming years. Fecht: “We are particularly glad that we managed to secure a contract for the maintenance of all simulators up to 2015. We are currently integrating helicopter modifications and all the new requirements of our customers in an upgrade program to be introduced in the simulators.”
Rheinmetall AGHead of Press and Public Relations
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