Defence Minister Peter Dutton this morning announced the government is negotiating to buy up to 40 Sikorsky UH-60M Black Hawk battlefield mobility helicopters to replace the Army’s troubled fleet of NH Industries MRH 90 Taipan helicopters.

Dutton said that the government is “formally requesting advice” from the US Government on the acquisition and noted the MRH 90 fleet has not met contracted availability requirements or cost of ownership.

The MRH 90 is today operated by both the Army and the Royal Australian Navy but, as ADM reported in October Defence confirmed that additional MH-60Rs are being considered under Project Sea 9100 Phase 1 (Embarked Logistics Support Helicopter Capability) to replace the maritime fleet.

 “The performance of the MRH 90 Taipan has been an ongoing and well-documented concern for Defence and there have been a significant effort at great expense to try to remediate those issues,” Dutton said.

 “It is critically important there is a safe, reliable and capable utility helicopter available for our service men and women into the future, with reasonable and predictable operating costs.”

The Taipan is operated in the battlefield mobility role by Army’s 5th Aviation Regiment (5 AVN) at Townsville and in the Special Operations support helicopter role by 6 AVN at Holsworthy. Defence was also due to make a decision on a light, deployable special forces support helicopter in coming weeks, but the effect of this latest announcement on that program remains unclear at the present time.MRH 90

ADM understands the light helicopter project (Land 2097 Phase 4) may now be pushed to the right, or perhaps shelved altogether, as a result of the Black Hawk announcement.

 The Taipan was introduced from 2007 to replace Army’s S-70A-9 Black Hawks, which are finally being retired as these words are written.

Minister Dutton made no mention of timing or projected cost for the new Black Hawk deal, but said government will consider options once it has all the information requested from Washington.

 “The Australian Government is exercising its right to understand what options are available to provide the necessary capability at a reasonable cost into the future,” Dutton said.

 US law requires notification of congressional approval for major arms deals through the Defense Security Co-operation Agency (DSCA), but no notification of the potential sale of Black Hawks to Australia has been made to date.

 ADM Comment: Today’s announcement by Minister Dutton should surprise no-one, Army and/or government have been running a hate campaign against the MRH 90 (and the Tiger ARH before it) since it was introduced to service in 2007. Despite being more advanced than the Black Hawk in many ways, the European helicopter has certainly suffered from poor availability rates and a high cost of ownership and this has recently resulted in Army leasing two Leonardo AW139s under Plan Corella to redress some of the problems. Army has made no secret of the fact that it has always wanted Black Hawk (and Apache) and has finally won its fight.

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