The US State Department has approved the sale of 40 Sikorsky UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters to Australia, the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) announced.
Australia requested the deal, amounting to $1.95 billion, to replace its existing multi-role helicopter fleet and “maintain the appropriate level of readiness to conduct combined operations.”
The contract further includes 88 T700-GE 701D engines, 44 AN/AAR-57 Counter Missile Warning Systems, H-764U Embedded Global Position Systems with inertial navigation, Country Unique SAASM (selective availability anti-spoofing module), communication systems, and other related equipment.
Lockheed Martin, the chopper’s manufacturer, is the principal contractor.
“This proposed sale will support the foreign policy and national security objectives of the United States. Australia is one of our most important allies in the Western Pacific,” the DSCA said in a press release.
“The strategic location of this political and economic power contributes significantly to ensuring peace and economic stability in the region. It is vital to the US national interest to assist our ally in developing and maintaining a strong and ready self-defense capability,” it added.
Replacing MRH 90 Taipans
In June 2021, Australia grounded its fleet of 47 NHIndustries MRH90 Taipan helicopters because of safety and maintenance issues in the support systems. Since they entered service in 2007, the choppers have reportedly been “plagued” with maintenance problems.
The twin-engine, multi-role medium helicopters were already grounded twice before, the last being in 2019 “following a serious tail rotor vibration and delamination that required remediation of the tail rotors on all of the [Australian Defence Force]’s fleet,” according to a report by Australian Defence Business Review.
In December 2021, the Australian ministry of defense announced its interest in replacing the Taipans with Black Hawks from the US earlier than their intended retirement in 2037.
The MRH90 Taipan’s performance “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,” explained former Australian Defence Minister Peter Dutton at the time.
“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,” he added.