Army’s 10 Boeing CH-47F Chinook helicopters not only provide a vital medium lift capability for land manoeuvre operations, but are an integral component of the ADF’s ability to project force across the beach.
The Chinook is now a crucial member, together with the MRH-90 Taipan battlefield mobility helicopter and Tiger Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter, of an amphibious Air Combat Element (ACE), operating from the decks of Navy’s amphibious warfare vessels.
Supporting the capability as the current CH-47 Integrated Support Services Contract (CISSC) provider is Boeing Defence Australia, which provides training, engineering and maintenance support to Army Aviation (AAvn) in Townsville, with the 5th Aviation Regiment, and at the Army Aviation Training Centre (AAvnTC) at Oakey.
Chinooks for Army
Army’s involvement with the venerable Chinook helicopter stretches back to August 1990, shortly after the transfer of the RAAF’s battlefield helicopters to its control.
Under an arrangement with the US Government, 11 ex-RAAF CH-47C Chinooks were returned to the US for refurbishment to CH-47D configuration and four helicopters would be returned to Australia and the balance retained for service with the US Army in Hawaii. In Australian service the Chinook fleet has been – and continues to be – operated by C Squadron/5 Aviation Regiment (5 AVN REGT) at Townsville.
Two further CH-47Ds were purchased in June 1998, increasing the numbers to six and the first in a series of rotational deployments to the Middle East Area of Operations (MEAO) began in February 2003. The fleet was upgraded in 2007 under Project Air 9000 Phase 5A, which replaced engines and upgraded drive trains with components then being installed on the current-production US Army CH-47F helicopters, improving performance, particularly in ‘hot and high’ conditions.
Air 9000 Phase 5C was also developed around the same time, to consider the future replacement of the CH-47D with the CH-47F and a further pair of ex-US Army CH-47Ds were acquired under Air 9000 Phase 5D in December 2011 as attrition replacements for helicopters lost in accidents in Afghanistan in December 2011.
Phase 5C gained Second Pass approval in May 2010 and seven CH-47Fs were initially acquired, with deliveries occurring between 2014 and 2017. As these deliveries were underway, the Defence Force Structure Review highlighted the need for an increased ADF medium lift capability. Three additional airframes were delivered under a rapid acquisition methodology, overseen by Land 4502 Phase 1 and delivered in mid-2016, less than 120 days from the signing of the initial Letter of Acceptance (LOA).
CH-47 Integrated Support Services contract genesis
Boeing Defence Australia (BDA) was awarded the CH-47 Integrated Support Services (CISS) contract in September 2018, but the company’s involvement with Chinook sustainment services stretches back to the introduction of the CH-47D variant, with the posting of a Field Service Representative (FSR) from the US and an agreement with the Commonwealth for the supply of post-design support services.
Although CH-47D maintenance support was provided by BAE Systems Australia, BDA Chinook sustainment activities expanded over the years, largely under the umbrella of the Army Aviation Training and Training Support (AATTS) contract, until late 2014 when Boeing was contracted to support the introduction of the initial seven CH-47F helicopters.
The one-year agreement was known as the Delivery and Operational Maintenance Support (DOMS) contract and included a mix of BDA and Boeing personnel.
“We worked with a team of US technicians in Philadelphia, accepting the aircraft alongside the Commonwealth, tearing them down and loading them onto aircraft for the flight to Townsville,” remembers Mal Porra, BDA CH-47F program manager. “In Townsville we supported the acceptance rebuild and supported the New Equipment Training (NET) phase, which included US Army pilots training Army aviators in operating the aircraft.”
During this time, BDA personnel also incorporated a number of Australia-specific modifications to the local fleet, including installation of ballistic protection blankets, Electronic Location Transponder (ELT), crashworthy pilots’ seats, a Cargo On/Off Loading System (COOLS) and a mount for the Dillon Aerospace M134 minigun.
A similar, albeit shorter, contract followed in 2016 to support the introduction of the three additional helicopters delivered under Land 4502 Phase 1. In late 2016 BDA also signed a Chinook Maintenance Support (CMS) contract for the provision of operational and depot maintenance support, replacing BAE Systems Australia. The CMS was also included an integrated workforce strategy which incorporates 5 AVN REGT personnel.
The CISS contract signed with Capability Acquisition and Sustainment Group in September 2018 essentially consolidates all existing support services into a single contract.
“It is effectively a through life support contract for the Chinook here in Australia (and) it is very similar to our other sustainment contracts,” Aaron Jones, BDA business manager, Emerging Markets said to ADM.
“It’s a five-year rolling-wave contract, with one five-year term and a performance review every year, where the Commonwealth measures our performance against a range of measures.”
One of the innovative features of BDA’s CISS sustainment model is provision for the company’s AnalytX data solutions system, which has the potential to realise savings in through life support, through initiatives such as predictive maintenance and supply chain optimisation.
“It’s about being able to bring the customer’s data into a central location and being able to aggregate it with the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) data and allow us to do the smart data analytics,” Jones explained.
“This is a core capability BDA is bringing into Australia. We’re now establishing the data analytics framework - we have the technology and we’re taking a program by program approach, because each program requires a tailored approach. Chinook is somewhat of an early adopter, because the Commonwealth was aware of what we were doing with data analytics when we were negotiating the CISS contract.”
The CISS contract therefore has the terms and conditions to allow AnaltyX to be incorporated into the Chinook sustainment program and as part of the initial phase, the Commonwealth is now assessing the suite of tools it might provide and BDA in turn is assessing customer data, in order to inform the next step.
“We’re at that initial phase, testing our assumptions and requirements to take it to the next stage,” Jones said. “Our approach across all our sustainment programs is that of the platform steward and our intent is to bring data analytics in as a tool suite.”
The AnayltX tool also brings with it the potential for Australian small to medium enterprises (SMEs) working in the software domain to win work, as Jones explains.
“There are a significant number of SMEs in the Australian market that have incredible analytics capabilities and software applications that can analyse a specific piece of data on an aircraft and we want to embrace that expertise across Australian industry,” Jones said.
“We’re trying to identify these companies and invite them to have a discussion with us - with the potential for them to provide data to the Commonwealth under our support infrastructure.”
Australian SMEs have already one work in the Chinook sustainment area and BDA has recently created the Boeing Rotorcraft Network Australia (BRNA) as part of its bid to supply the AH-64E Apache to Army, against its Land 4503 (armed reconnaissance helicopter) requirement.
The BRNA is an ICN Gateway which aims to optimise opportunities for local SMEs across its rotary wing programs in Australia, with a view to including successful candidates in the global supply chains.
Well-established SMEs such as Ferra Engineering and Marand have directly supported Army’s Chinook operations with the manufacture of components which may otherwise resulted in significant downtime, due to the long lead times of US supplied replacement parts.
Ferra produced complex formers for repairs of the rear fuselages of Army CH-47Fs, which have experienced cracking.
“There are very long lead times to produce something as specialised as that out of the US and we found that Ferra was able to produce these formers for us in-country and we’ve acquired around ten of these to this point, to make sure we have some spares in holding,” Mal Porra explained to ADM.
“Marand has produced some Triple Door components, which are again associated with the rear of the aircraft, around the rear landing gear and, more recently, they have produced a complicated piece of structure known as the Canted Longeron, which is part of the structure around the rear cargo door of the aircraft.”
Rotor blade repair capability
In July 2019, Melbourne-based Boeing Australia Component Repairs (BACR) announced that it has received accreditation to overhaul CH-47 rotor blades, the only facility outside the US able to perform the work.
The facility will initially support the Australian Army fleet, but there are also potential opportunities to perform work for regional partners. Singapore for example, currently has five CH-47Ds based at Oakey and countries such as India, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand all operate significant fleets of helicopters.
“We are supporting the ADF fleet, but the facility also gives rise to support other operators of the CH-47 and certainly our intention is to maintain a steady throughput of blades through the facility now they have gained the qualification,” Porra said.
This article first appeared in the November 2019 edition of ADM.