The ADF will lease five Airbus Helicopters H135 T3 light helicopters, locally known as Juno HT.1s, from the British Ministry of Defence (MoD) for a period of five years.
The aircraft are of similar configuration to Australia’s existing H135 T2+ helicopters, which are flown by No. 723 Sqn Royal Australian Navy (RAN) in support of the ADF Joint Helicopter School based at HMAS Albatross.
Unlike those 15 aircraft, however, the leased H135T3s will be based at Oakey Army Aviation Centre and operate primarily in support of Army aviation aircrew training, with a secondary role providing light transport capabilities to the ADF. This appears to indicate a return to at least some level of separate initial helicopter training for the Army and Navy, which unified their efforts with the introduction of the H135 T2+ based Helicopter Aircrew Training System (HATS) in 2018.
HATS and the Joint Helicopter School were not the first time that the Army and Navy unified their respective training pipelines. In the 1990s, pilots from both services completed initial helicopter flight training at the Australian Defence Force Helicopter School, based at Defence Establishment Fairbairn in Canberra. However, following a review in 1998, the Australian Defence Force Helicopter School was dissolved and replaced by service-specific training organisations.
Defence has not disclosed the cost of the five-year lease. However, since November last year, Army Aviation has awarded the British MoD at least three contracts worth $6.32 million each for unspecified “rotary wing” aircraft according to AusTender documents reviewed by ADM.
While Defence did not respond to or acknowledge repeated requests for comment from ADM about the contracts, in a statement, the Department noted that the cost of the lease will be met from within the existing budget. In all likelihood, this means that some of the funding originally allocated to MRH 90 Taipan sustainment has been redirected to help pay for the lease.
The British MoD ordered 29 H135T3 helicopters in 2016 to modernise the UK’s Military Flight Training System (MFTS). In 2022 the MoD ordered five more helicopters from Airbus to replace British Army Aerospatiale Gazelle light helicopters deployed in Northern Ireland. However, in February 2023, it was reported that the aircraft had been mothballed before entering service due to the security situation in Northern Ireland improving.
It is likely therefore that these five helicopters, which are almost-brand-new, will enter service with the Australian Army as part of the lease. According to Defence, the new helicopters will commence operations at Oakey by “mid-year”.