Ukraine’s request for Australia’s unwanted and unloved MRH-90 Taipan helicopter came too late to avoid their dismantling for parts and scrapping of the hulls, according to Defence Industry Minister Pat Conroy.
Minister Conroy, currently acting Defence Minister, said the government had adopted a disposal strategy aimed at 'delivering the best returns for taxpayers.'
That involved dismantling the helicopters and selling the spare parts.
“Some months after that process began, Ukraine made a formal request for the MRH-90s. It would require considerable taxpayers money and time to get those aircraft back into flying conditions,” he told reporters in Canberra.
The Australian Defence Force acquired 47 MRH-90 Taipans for use by Army and Navy in the utility and transport role, with the first entering service in 2007.
The ADF never found the Taipan to be wholly satisfactory, with performance shortcomings and incidents which led to a number of groundings of the fleet, though the aircraft remains in service with a number of militaries around the world.
In December 2021, the government announced that Army Taipans would be replaced by 40 Black Hawks and be retired from later this year. The Navy ceased flying its Taipans in April 2022, with their role performed by MH-60R Seahawks.
The final straw was the accident in July last year during the Talisman Sabre exercise when a Taipan crashed into the sea, killing its four crew.
The Minister told reporters in Canberra the government made the right decision to immediately ground the Taipan fleet following that tragic accident.
Subsequently, the government decided to bring forward their replacement with US-made Sikorsky UH-60M Black Hawks. The first of the new Black Hawks arrived last August, with the US promising to fast-track delivery of the rest.
“We immediately began a disposal strategy for the MRH-90s. That first step was contacting other users of the helicopters to see if anyone was interested in buying the airframes. There was no interest,” he said.
“We then worked with Airbus to see if there were any potential new customers interested in buying the airframes. There was no interest in that either.”
Minister Conroy said he should also make the point that multiple crash investigations are proceeding right now to determine the cause of the fatal Queensland crash.
“It would be irresponsible of us to move away from the disposal strategy that we have locked onto,” he said.
Asked why not freeze the disposal strategy until a willing buyer came forward, the Minister declared: “There are no willing buyers.
“Let’s be very clear about that. There is no-one, through the processes we established, who is prepared to buy these helicopters, and that’s why we started this disposal strategy that offers the best value for money for taxpayers.”
The Ukrainian government made a formal request to acquire the MRH-90s on 19 December 2023.
According to a report by Asia Pacific Defence Reporter, once stripped of useful parts, the MRH-90 hulls will be buried, the same fate which befell some former RAAF F-111 aircraft.