• US Army UH-60M Black Hawk at the Avalon Airshow in March.
Credit: Nigel Pittaway
    US Army UH-60M Black Hawk at the Avalon Airshow in March. Credit: Nigel Pittaway

The Army has taken delivery of the first two new Sikorsky UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters, beginning the end of European ascendancy in the Australian Defence Force helicopter fleet.

The first pair were delivered to RAAF Richmond in late July and a third arrived over the weekend. All three are destined for the Army’s 6th Aviation Regiment at Holsworthy, NSW.

"The first two of 40 UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters for the Australian Army arrived at RAAF Base Richmond 30July via US Air Force C-17, as scheduled," a Defence spokesperson confirmed to ADM today. "A third UH-60M Black Hawk arrived on Friday 4 August also via US Air Force C-17."

The first aircraft were originally expected to be delivered in June and 38 more will be delivered to Army in coming months.

The ADF is no stranger to the Black Hawk. From September 1987, the RAAF, then soon after the Army, operated a fleet of 39 Sikorsky S-70A-9 Black Hawks as replacements for the Vietnam-era Iroquois helicopters.

This wasn’t plain sailing. Shortages of spares initially restricted their use and five were lost in accidents.

Black Hawks were well regarded by the crews, an affection which never really transferred to their successors, the NH Industries MRH 90 Taipan, chosen in 2005 initially to replace the remaining Iroquois, as well as Navy Sea Kings and Army Black Hawks.

The Army would have preferred more Black Hawks and what Australia believed was a mature capability in the Taipan has continued to require substantial development. The MRH 90 was placed on the Projects of Concern list in November 2011 and remains there.

What Army really wanted was Black Hawks back, confirmed in August last year when the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) announced approval of sale of 40 UH-60M Black Hawk battlefield mobility helicopters to Australia for A$2.79 billion.

In January, the government officially announced Black Hawks were on the way.

“The Black Hawk will support the deployment of our troops and their equipment where they are needed in times of crisis. The Black Hawk is a reliable, proven and mature platform supported by a robust global supply chain,” then Head Land Capability Major General Jeremy King said at the time.

“The driver for Black Hawk and the reason why the contract for the first three aircraft was signed in January – with the first three aircraft to be here in June – is because of the need for the special operations capability,” MAJGEN King told ADM at the Avalon Airshow earlier this year.

The decision to acquire new Black Hawks followed an earlier decision in January 2021 to replace the Army’s 22 Eurocopter Tiger armed reconnaissance helicopters with 29 Boeing AH-64E Apache Guardian attack helicopters.

The UH-60M Black Hawk is a modernised version of the venerable YUH-60A which first flew in 1974. More than 5,000 have been produced.

These aircraft are in service with the US Army and feature upgraded engines, gearbox and rotors and a new glass cockpit.

They will operate from Oakey with the 5th Aviation Regiment and Holsworthy, with the 6th Aviation Regiment and supported by Australian industry contractors. Sikorsky Australia, a Lockheed Martin company, has been sustaining the ADF Black Hawk and Seahawk helicopter fleets for more than 30 years.

“The UH-60M Black Hawk is a tough, reliable and proven utility helicopter," Lockheed Martin Australia Chief Executive Warren McDonald said in January.

"Australia’s acquisition of the Black Hawk reinforces our nation’s enduring military interoperability with the US and allied nations.”

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