Babcock Australia and Bell have announced that they will be teaming for the Special Forces helicopter requirement under Land 2097 Phase 4 with the Bell 429 Global Ranger with COTS based solution. Babcock will be leading the customisation program to meet the capability.
Babcock Australasia’s Managing Director – Land, Graeme Nayler, said the Bell 429 Global Ranger was assessed to be the most suitable helicopter in response to the evolving needs of the ADF.
“The Bell 429 has a relatively new paramilitary design, with high levels of safety, role flexibility and performance that will meet the demands of Australian Special Forces,” he said. “Working together, Babcock and Bell draw on a global track record of successful helicopter operations to deliver a trusted solution.”
The initial tranche of 12 helicopters (with later extension of up to a total of 18 platforms over the life of the program) will see both acquisition and sustainment covered in the contract. The contract also makes provision for rolling upgrades including the fitting of a mounted gun or other weapon system among other capabilities.
In speaking to ADM about the announcement both Nayler and Dan McQuestin, Regional Business Development Director of Bell were clear that the Commonwealth requirement meant that the larger 429 was better suited to the task than the 407.
“Once you look at the requirements by the customer for the payload that they wish to carry and their standard mission configuration, we’re getting up to the 429 in terms of weight endurance and pure capacity,” Nayler explained.
“The 407 and the 429 were initially both put forward and really displayed to the ADF in the early stages when it was an RFI and CAS-G project team and the ADF were exploring their options and setting their requirements,” McQuestin said.
Nayler explained that the 12-month process Babcock went through to choose an OEM partner was exhaustive.
“Simple things like crash worthiness, availability, and transportability; it has to be packed up into a C17 in a very rapid time,” Nayler said to ADM. “The manoeuvrability was also a larger factor. The Commonwealth were really crystal clear that it cannot be another Blackhawk. And it’s also its potential growth path. The 429 delivered. It’s probably the youngest of all the airframes from the various OEMs and it already incorporates a lot of the capability that we require.”
The team are also confident that the platform is low risk given that the ADF has had the platform in service with the Navy for training and are familiar with the platform. Navy operated four 429s for training for almost a decade under a Raytheon led contract before the HATS program was introduced. The aircraft were retired last year and have been repurposed and are now flying with the Auckland Police force.
“The risk part of it is this isn’t a new capability, it’s not an extension, it’s a completely new capability for the ADF and therefore CASG,” McQuestin said. “The project team have set quite high requirements of entry here because they understand that they need to stand up this new capability with a minimum of risk. What Bell brings is an absolute proven track record of meeting IOC to government, parapublic and military customers globally but, also, you can really take that example locally here with our own military of installing the RAN Bell 429s which were supported on an extremely tight timeframe and were delivered ahead of time and on budget, and then went on to fly over 10,000 hours supported by a commercial supply chain and to the point that those aircraft operated for nearly 10 years.”
While neither Nayler or McQuestin were able to disclose the AIC element of their bid for competitive reasons, they assured ADM that the Australian SME supply chain would be robust and outlined ‘at a later date’.
“Babcock’s success as a Defence Prime is attributed to its ability to offer capability-focussed solutions that select the best products and services tailored to the specific needs of the customer,” Nayler said. “Babcock operates helicopters from all of the major manufacturers and understands the relative advantages of each system and provider.
“Babcock’s selection of Bell and the Global Ranger also offers closer ties to US Defence industry, and an opportunity to improve interoperability with US and other contemporary military capabilities.”
All aircraft for Land 2097 will be new build. Bids for the program go in the box on July 10 this year with the preferred tenderer expected to go through contract negotiations in Q4 in 2021 through until mid 2022 and signing at the end of 2022.