New choppers loom
Australia is set to buy a $1.3 billion fleet of US-made helicopters.
Reports say the Royal Australian Navy will dump its troubled fleet of European-made MRH 90 Taipan helicopters and replace them with US-made Seahawks.
It comes after the ADF was forced to ground all 47 Taipan helicopters used by the navy and army over safety and maintenance concerns. The US Defence Security Cooperation Agency has approved the sale of 12 Sikorsky Romeo Seahawk helicopters to Australia at a cost of about AU$1.3 billion.
“The State Department has made a determination approving a possible foreign military sale to the government of Australia of MH-60R Multi-Mission Helicopters, related defence services, and related equipment for an estimated cost of $986 million USD,” an official statement says.
“It is vital to the US national interest to assist our ally in developing and maintaining a strong and ready self-defence capability.”
The fleet is intended to replace the navy's six Airbus-made MRH-90s. The MRH-90s have suffered from poor availability for their entire service life, including forcing the army to lease interim helicopters for training and non-combat transport roles.
Among the specific issues, it has been reported that the door on the MRH-90 is too narrow to allow its gun to fire while troops are descending. Several rounds of remedial work have been carried out on the fleet.
Australia already operates 24 of the new MH-60R Seahawks at HMAS Albatross, near Nowra. The next purchase should give it a common fleet of 36 aircraft.
Shadow Assistant Defence Minister Pat Conroy says the latest sale is a sign of mismanagement.
“The Howard government's $3.7 billion decision to acquire the MRH-90 and the current Coalition government's eight years of mismanagement of it looks like it has now cost taxpayers another $1.3 billion,” he said on social media.
“The party that delivered the billion-dollar Seasprite debacle continues to mismanage Defence.”