Two contenders have officially broken cover on the Special Forces helicopter requirement under Land 2097 Phase 4; Airbus Australia Pacific (Airbus AP) and Babcock Australia.
ADM has previously reported on Babcock’s offering of the Bell 429.
Airbus confirmed that they will be offering their H145M platform with the support of a number of Australian suppliers to support their Australian Industry Capability (AIC) approach.
“The H145M is a proven mature helicopter and it’s got about five million hours of heritage that has been slowly developed over the years,” Andrew Mathewson, MD Airbus AP said to ADM. “The reason I mention that, of course, is that we know that the customer is after an off-the-shelf capability and we can offer that. This is an aircraft that’s been used by hundreds of customers around the world.
“The M version specifically though is a military version. It’s being used by the German Special Forces. We in Airbus provide aircraft from Europe. The engineering that supports this capability is through the engineering that comes out of Donauwörth in Germany and one of the very happy end users of the H145M is the German Special Forces.
“There are a number of other nations that have bought the military version but they’re probably the benchmark because and Germany’s achieving a very impressive 99 per cent mission availability with the aircraft.
“It’s a really natural fit into the special operations community here because of its size and capacity.”
The Program Office has made it very clear that they want something commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) which can be supported through the civil aviation environment. AAP is looking to leverage the existing civil network in the region to support the military variant in Australia.
“The H145 and the H145M is the latest version on the BK117 family of aircraft and this stems all the way back to the old BO105,” explained Laurie Alexander, Senior Sales Manager Military Helicopters, Strategy Sales and Marketing AAP to ADM. “So it’s really been developed over quite a few decades, this platform.
“We’ve got about 1,600 that have been delivered worldwide and I think there’s about 1,400 of that family still flying around the world. For instance, in North America we’ve got over 700 of those aircraft, most of which are in service with the US Army. We’ve got 470 of those on order.
“In the Southeast Asian region, specifically on the H145, because it’s a newish version of the aircraft – it came out in 2015 – we’ve only got a relatively small amount of those aircraft flying around the region. We’ve got a couple in NZ and we’ve got one being operated in Queensland in Mackay, for offshore pilot transfer work, along with three operating in PNG.
“But globally this aircraft has quite a strong footprint and that’s quite good for the number of airframes in operation. It also means that the supply, the support solution for the helicopter is mature, and as Andrew alluded to, this aircraft is being used by the German special forces is achieving very good metrics, and it’s got very good performance for the platform itself.
“But the key on it there is that it’s also testing and proving the support system, so we can show in offering this platform it’s not only a high performance aircraft to meet the requirements of the special forces, it’s going to rock up, it’s going to do the job. There’s a high degree of certainty in the support of the aircraft moving forward.”
Matthewson is also open about the issues the company has faced on both the Taipan and Tiger fleets over the years and how it could affect the competition.
“We don’t hide from the fact that both the Taipan and Tiger were slow to meet their operational objectives in terms of being introduced into service,” Matthewson said. “The difference with this aircraft type is it’s extensively used and it will leverage the civil pool of parts. So unlike most military aircraft where Defence buys the spares and then they own the spares and then the spares have to go back to wherever that component will be repaired.
“These spares will be in existence for support to all aircraft around the world, and what that means is that you don’t suffer the same challenge in terms of supply chain. The supply chain is assured because it’s providing the same components to a number of customers around the world and you don’t end up also having the difficulty of having to track specific serial numbers, they’re dynamic components, as you do with other aircraft types.
“Defence is slowly moving into this way of supporting its aircraft. And there are a number of other platforms already that have a shared pool of spare components.”
Airbus AP is also on board with the AIC emphasis coming from government. Their team includes Safran Helicopter Engines for engine support, QinetiQ Australia for verification and validation work and mission trainers, Toll Helicopters, Rafael, Thales Australia, Sigma Bravo for mission planning and a company called Helicopter Logistics from WA. Further companies will be announced at a later point, ADM understands.
“We want to partner with Helicopter Logistics as a loyalty partner so that when these aircraft, if we’re successful, are operating in the west in support of special operations, we’ll have a footprint on the ground to provide that direct support, so that Defence doesn’t have to have a separate logistics arrangement in place because industry will be able to cover that off,” Matthewson explained to ADM.
“We’ve worked really hard to develop a really comprehensive team of companies that will contribute to this. We want to offer our customer the greatest agility in how they utilise and adapt this aircraft to their future use. In this instance, we’re using a teaming agreement to complement the Airbus AP offering.
“Now, of course, we’ll always be there to make sure that the aircraft is safe and airworthy and provide that support but we do think there’s great opportunities to transfer technology to Australia around this sort of capability so that we create the sovereign industrial capability that government is seeking to create here. We’ve been working with a university as well to develop new innovative ways of developing capability and we want to open up to our partners, through the global supply office construct, opportunities to export that technology from Australia to overseas.”
At this point, Leonardo’s Augusta Westland would not comment on the program except to say that ‘it is a program of interest for them’. Sources close to the program have informed ADM that the team would have trouble meeting the AIC requirements and are expected not to bid when bids go in the box on July 10.
ADM also understands that the local Bell network support company in Hawker Pacific is also offering the Bell 429 with training support from CAE. However, once again the company would not comment on the record about the details of their offering.
Interestingly, the company did release the fact that its Bankstown Maintenance Repair and Overhaul (MRO) facility has expanded its CASA 145 approval with the addition of Bell 429 Helicopters last month.
As an authorized Bell Customer Service Facility (CSF) for 15 years, Hawker Pacific Bankstown has supported multiple Bell aircraft (505, 407, 412 and 429) under its previous CASA Part 30 approval with line and base maintenance over the years, including modifications, avionics upgrades, CR&O and complete refurbishments. In addition, the company supports various fixed wing aircraft such as Beechcraft and Dassault Falcon Jets.
VP Regional Operations Pacific, Ian D’Arcy, says the Bell 429 certification complements Hawker Pacific’s other enhanced service capabilities. These include the company’s Part 145-approved and AS9100 Rev D Brisbane-based manufacturing and machining facility, as well as its rotary blade repairs facility, RBI Hawker, which is due to commence Australian operations later this year.
“The addition of Bell 429 Helicopters to the Bankstown Part 145 approval will certainly support this facility for future enhanced commercial and military capabilities,” D’Arcy said.