Defence Minister Richard Marles has confirmed perhaps the worst kept secret in Defence; that the Australian Army’s MRH 90 Taipans will not fly again before they’re replaced by UH-60M Black Hawks. The Army’s entire Taipan fleet was grounded in July after a helicopter taking part in Exercise Talisman Sabre 2023 crashed off the Whitsunday Islands.
“The MRH 90 has been an important capability for our country and Defence Force, and I recognise the hard work of the hundreds of people who dedicated themselves to acquiring, operating and sustaining the aircraft,” Marles said in a statement, which emphasised that the government's focus is now on introducing the UH-60M Black Hawk into service.
Justifying the decision Marles said that the advice received by the government indicated that investigations into the July ditching would continue “well into” next year. Under plans announced by the then Defence Minister, Peter Dutton, in 2021 the Taipan was originally scheduled to sunset 10 years early in December 2024.
Minister for Defence Industry, Pat Conroy, said that the government was focused on assisting industry to transition from the MRH 90 Taipan to the UH-60M Black Hawk. “The Australian Government recognises the unique and highly valued contributions of skilled defence industry workers,” he said, “We are actively working with industry partners to transition the skilled workers supporting MRH-90s to the Black Hawk program and Army’s other helicopters.”
ADM understands that several key personnel within the Taipan sustainment enterprise have already moved on from Airbus Australia Pacific to Lockheed Martin Australia. As previously reported, Australia’s UH-60M fleet will be split between the 6th Aviation Regiment, based at Holsworthy Barracks, and the 5th Aviation Regiment based at Oakey.
Australia first bought the MRH-90 in 2004 to replace the Army’s then ageing fleet of UH-1 helicopters. The order was then expanded as part of a “rationalisation” of the broader ADF helicopter fleet, including Navy’s Sea King and Army’s S-70A-9 helicopters. In the end, a total of 47 aircraft were acquired by Australia.
ADM Comment: Though not unexpected – Army never wanted the MRH 90 in the first place – the Defence Minister’s announcement is puzzling. The inquiry into the recent accident has not been completed, let alone delivered a negative finding, and Army has to date received only three Black Hawks, only one of which has actually flown in Australia. The decision to remove the Taipan from service immediately means Army will possibly have to rely on its small fleet of CH-47F Chinooks for battlefield lift for most of next year.