• July 23, 2024

The Australian Defence Force decides to replace European helicopters with alternative options in a considerate manner.

In an announcement on Friday, the Australian Defence Minister Peter Dutton revealed that Canberra is actively exploring the acquisition of up to 40 Sikorsky UH-60M Black Hawk battlefield helicopters as a potential replacement for the existing fleet of NH Industry MRH 90 Taipan Multi Role Helicopters in the Australian Defence Force.


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As part of the ongoing modernization efforts, the Australian Army has taken the decision to replace the European Tiger Armed Reconnaissance Helicopters with the technologically advanced Boeing AH-64E Apache Guardian attack helicopters, following the government’s earlier commitment under Prime Minister Scott Morrison. These changes align with the Australian Army’s objective of enhancing battlefield mobility and counter-terrorism support roles, while also meeting the embarked logistics helicopter requirements of the Royal Australian Navy. The introduction of the MRH 90 helicopters in December 2007 marked a significant milestone in replacing various helicopter models such as the Sikorsky S-70A-9 Black Hawk, Bell UH-1H Iroquois, and Westland Sea King Mk.50A/B.


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In an ironic turn of events, the retirement of the Australian Army’s older Black Hawk helicopters is taking place this week, which is coinciding with delays in the necessary modifications of the MRH 90 helicopters to meet the specific requirements of the Special Forces. Originally intended to serve until 2037, the Taipan fleet has faced challenges including low availability and substantial ownership costs. These issues prompted its inclusion in the government’s projects of concern watchlist since November 2011.


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In a statement, he expressed that the performance of the MRH 90 Taipan has been a consistent concern for the Defence, which has prompted substantial efforts and expenses to address the issues. Ensuring the availability of a safe, dependable, and capable helicopter for the future, with predictable operating costs, is of utmost importance for the well-being of our dedicated service personnel.

While specific details regarding the timeline and cost of the UH-60M acquisition were not provided by Dutton, he emphasized that Australian taxpayers can expect savings of approximately $2.5 billion (U.S. $1.8 billion) until 2037.


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According to the Minister, the Black Hawk helicopters offer significant cost advantages in terms of hourly operational expenses compared to the current Taipan fleet. The unreliability of the Taipan has resulted in substantial maintenance costs and considerable downtime for our pilots and air crews. This situation prevents them from engaging in crucial training and operational activities that should be carried out with these helicopters. The urgent need for this capability is why we are aiming to introduce the new Black Hawk into service within the next few years, which would greatly benefit the Australian Defence Force.

In October, the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency shared information that the State Department has granted approval for a potential sale of 12 Sikorsky MH-60R Seahawks (without anti-submarine warfare equipment) to Australia. The Australian Department of Defence subsequently confirmed that these helicopters are being considered as replacements for the MRH 90 in the maritime support role under Project Sea 9100.

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