Following the reporting in Asia-Pacific Defence Reporter that Defence is secretly planning to bury its 45 surviving MRH 90 Taipan helicopters, Defence has told ADM that the aircraft will be disposed of in an “environmentally friendly and cost-effective” manner.
This seems to confirm that they will indeed be buried, rather than sold on the open market or – perhaps even better – donated to Ukraine to assist their efforts to repel the Russian invaders.
“In September 2023, the Australian Government announced the MRH 90 helicopter fleet would not return to flying operations,” a Defence spokesperson said in response to ADM’s questions.
“Defence is working with Airbus Australia Pacific and NATO Helicopter Industries to harvest key spares from the MRH 90 fleet for the use of other NH 90 operators. Defence will dispose of the remaining airframes and systems in an environmentally friendly and cost-effective manner.”
ADM understands that Defence approached other NH 90 operators to gauge interest in acquiring either whole aircraft or spare parts, but even while this process remains underway, disassembly has commenced. As of late December, it is understood that no other NH 90 operator – including New Zealand – was interested in acquiring complete aircraft.
The decision was taken to ground the MRH 90 fleet after a tragic accident off the Queensland coast during Exercise Talisman Sabre last year. The decision was made despite the inquiry into the crash being ongoing and would seem to have been made for political convenience, rather than for concerns about the helicopter’s airworthiness.
Army has arguably been running a smear campaign against the European helicopter since it was first introduced to service in 2007 and although the manufacturer has been guilty of not adequately supporting the helicopter in the earlier years, Defence seems to have convinced Minister Richard Marles that it must be disposed of immediately.
The fact that that the MRH 90s were to be secretly buried lends weight to the smear campaign theory, but what Defence means when it says their disposal will be cost-effective is open to conjecture.
The Taipans are being replaced by 40 Black Hawk helicopters from the United States – a solution Army wanted in the first place – but only three of these have flown in Australia to date and are far from operational, leaving the ADF critically short of helicopter capability at a time when there is major flooding in parts of the country.
While politically expedient, the decision to summarily ground the Taipans in September was – at best – extremely short sighted.