The French Minister of the Army, Florence Parly, has today announced a €700 million defence contract with MBDA. The contract will see the pan-European company supply 500 brand new, currently in-development air-to-surface missiles for the Tigre Eurocopter. The missiles in question are state of the art High Tier Missiles (MHT) and Long Range Mobile Missiles (MLP). The munitions are to be produced in MBDA’s facility in Bourges, central France. The MHT and MLP air-to-surface weapons are to follow in the footsteps of MBDA’s MMP system, released in 2018 as the world’s first 5th generation ground-to-ground missile. MBDA presented their MHT/MLP weapons to France’s Direction Generale de L’Armement (DGA), earlier this year as a candidate for the 2019 launched, Missile Air-Sol Tactique Futur (MAST-F) project. The project has the objective to provide the French Army’s dedicated attack helicopter, the Eurocopter Tigre, with a cutting edge air-to-ground missile to replace its current 1995 vintage, AGM-114 anti-armour payload.
MBDA, the MHT/MLP manufacturer, was founded in 2001 as a result of a merger between French, British, Italian, German and Spanish defence firms. The company’s shareholder breakdown of 37.5% held by Airbus, 37.5% to BAE Systems and 25% maintained by Leonardo however, only saw the UK, Italy and France represented at the company control level. The company is a specialist missile producer focusing only on that niche. MBDA has an exceptional pedigree in the manufacture of missiles including, the Mistral air-to-air series, the Stormshadow air-launched cruise missile, the exceptionally effective Exocet anti-ship family and the ubiquitous man portable MILAN AT system. The company’s innovation in the field of missile production, led to the development of 2018’s medium range anti-armour missile (MMP). The MMP is the base model for the MHT and MLP and is equipped with a day/night camera, fire-and-forget capabilities and both Lock-On-Before and Lock-On-After launch abilities.
The MHT/MLP are to be aerial adaptions of the MMP’s technology, optimized instead for air-to-ground usage. The weapons are to mirror the MMP system by copying the lock on systems to allow for the weapons officer on a MHT/MLP equipped helicopter, to target and retarget the missile post-launch. The other feature copied over from the MMP is that of the day/night camera, using the same IR camera system to provide pictures to the weapons officer in low-light conditions. The missiles are said to have an 8km range and are linked to the weapon’s current platform through a data link, allowing for real time data input and feedback loops to closely control the MHT/MLP payloads The data link is likely to copy the MMP’s jam resistant software, operable through frequency hopping. The technical data surrounding the MHT/MLP missiles is still inaccessible but the MHT/MLP is likely to replicate the MMP warhead’s ability to penetrate 3m of concrete or 1,000mm of rolled homogeneous steel armour.
The French military’s intended platform for MBDA’s MHT/MLP missiles, the Tigre Eurocopter, is a 1991 attack helicopter manufactured by Airbus Helicopters. The Tigre Eurocopter came into service with the French Army in 2005, operating under the French Army’s aviation wing. The aviation wing, operating under the name ‘Aviation Legere de L’Armee de Terre’ was founded in 1954 has served with distinction in French Indochina, Algeria, Kosovo, Libya and most recently in Mali. The new MHT/MLP missiles are to be used primarily to provide agile helicopter mounted close fire support. Providing anti-armour firepower for the French land forces where a persistent hover-capable air support presence is required. Once the Tigre Eurocopter has been fitted with the MHT/MLP missiles, the enhanced levels of anti-armour firepower will be coordinated with the Tigre Eurocopter’s pre-existing weaponry, specifically Nexter’s 30mm GIAT Autocannon, MBDA’s Mistral air-to-air missiles, MBDA’s 68mm SNEB air-to-ground missiles or General Dynamics’ Hydra 70 air-to-ground rockets. The Tigre’s impressive load-out grants a significant force multiplier for the French light infantry, particularly France’s special forces command.
One of the reported motivations for the acquisition of a new missile system for the platform, is said to be in order to improve French Army Aviation’s capabilities in Mali. The coupling of French special forces and Tigre Eurocopters occurs under the 4th Special Forces Helicopter Regiment. The combat duo has provided the French military a significant edge during its recent campaigns in Mali, starting with Operation Serval from 2012 – 2014 before moving into its counter-insurgency phase starting in 2014 as Operation Barkhane. The current French strategy to combat Islamist movements in the region has been to launch rapid surprise raids with overwhelming aerial firepower. The MHT/MLP missiles take this firepower to another level. The introduction of these missiles look to increase France’s military capabilities whilst increasing MBDA’s revenue for the year. MBDA’s receival of the project has placed the future of France’s dedicated close air-support aviation in good hands.