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Australia Seeks to Replace MRH 90 Helos With Black Hawks

Australian defense minister Peter Dutton announced last week that the government wants to replace the country’s Airbus MRH 90 Taipan helicopters with Sikorsky UH-60M Black Hawks.

The Department of Defence stated that it is seeking to procure up to 40 Black Hawks from the US and retire the troubled Airbus aircraft earlier than their intended retirement in 2037.

Dutton explained that the “performance of the MRH90 Taipan has been an ongoing and well-documented concern for Defence and there has been a significant effort at great expense to try to remediate those issues.”

“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.”

Aircraft Grounding

The decision comes months after the Australian Armed Forces grounded its fleet of 47 Taipans over maintenance and safety issues with the aircraft’s support system.

Australia revealed in June that “the fleet was suspended as a safety precaution,” adding that the “issue relates to the application of the helicopter’s maintenance policy in the helicopter’s IT support system.” 

The Australian Army uses the utility aircraft for various tasks, including special forces operations, while the Royal Australian Navy uses the chopper for maritime support. The aircraft also performs humanitarian aid and disaster relief.

Troubled Aircraft

Canberra bought 46 Taipans from 2004-2006 under a $3 billion deal to replace the army’s 40 S-70A Blackhawks and six naval Sea Kings. Six aircraft were built in Europe, with the remainder assembled by Australian Aerospace in Brisbane, Queensland.

The first helicopter entered service in 2007, and by 2011 the procurement was put on a “projects of concern” watch list over “delivery delays and initial technical issues.” 

In 2015, Rear Admiral Terry Dalton complained that there were significant delays to overhaul components, adding that “some capabilities had yet to be introduced, such as separated side guns, a fast roping rappelling system, and a cargo hook for operations at sea.”

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