Australia Dumps ‘Unreliable’ European Military Helicopters For US Black Hawks – Defense Minister

Australia will replace European MRH-90 Taipan military helicopters with multi-role American Black Hawks, Australian Defence Minister Peter Dutton said on Friday.

“For the interoperability with the US and Australia which is increasingly important for us given the instability in our region, the Black Hawk made perfect sense. They are much cheaper to fly than what the Taipans were,” the minister told Australia’s Nine News.

According to the minister, the 41 Taipan helicopters were unreliable and did not live up to the expectations. In their stead, Australia will purchase up to 40 Black Hawk helicopters from the United States.

Earlier on Friday, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison also said that the Taipans “weren’t doing their job”. The purchase of American helicopters, he said, complies with obligations under the AUKUS partnership with the United States and the United Kingdom.

According to Nine News, the replacement of the helicopters will cost taxpayers 7 billion Australian dollars ($5 billion).

The Australian government’s decision drew criticism from the opposition. Deputy Labor Leader Richard Marles said the country’s military programs raised questions amid the recent refusal of the Australian authorities to honor the $90 billion submarine contract with France in favor of the US nuclear submarines.

“We are seeing a whole lot of defense programs being scrapped. When we see defense programs being turned over like this, it is billions of dollars wasted,” Marles said, as quoted by Nine News.

UH-60 2nd Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment (cropped).jpg
File Image: UH-60 Black Hawk

Labor frontbencher Bill Shorten, on the contrary, urged the Australian government to take a hard decision to replace the helicopter fleet.

In January, Australia banned the use of 30 out of the 33 Black Hawk helicopters already purchased due to technical problems. Three helicopters continued to be used only because they were operating outside Australia, in East Timor.

The Black Hawk helicopters are designed and built by the US Sikorsky Aircraft manufacturer. Taipan aircraft are produced by the European NHIndustries consortium.

According to the Australian Defence Magazine, Taipan helicopters are used in Australia by aviation regiments in the suburbs of Townsville and Holsworthy. They were put into service in 2007 to replace the outdated S-70A-9 Black Hawks helicopters.

File Image: Australian Army S-70A-9

Earlier, the Biden administration had approved 12 Sikorsky MH-60R Black Hawk helicopters to Australia, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) announced in November.

“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 Defense Services, and related equipment for an estimated cost of $985 million,” the DSCA said in a press release.

The agency has delivered the required certification notifying Congress of this possible sale, the release said.

“The government of Australia has requested to buy twelve MH-60R Multi-Mission helicopters; 30 T-700-GE-401C engines; twelve APS-153(V) Multi-Mode Radars [and] twelve AN/AAS-44C(V) Multi-Spectral Targeting Systems,” the release said.

The deal also includes 34 embedded Global Positioning System/Precise Positioning Service inertial navigation systems with selective availability and anti-spoofing module and 20 Link 16 multifunctional information distribution systems – joint tactical radio system, the release said.

Australia will also buy in the same package 12 GAU-61 digital rocket launchers, 12 airborne low-frequency sonars, 18 AN/AAR-47 missile warning systems, 18 AN/ALE-47 chaff and flare dispensers, electronic countermeasures and other equipment, the release added.

The proposed sale will improve Australia’s capability to perform anti-surface and anti-submarine warfare missions along with the ability to perform secondary missions including vertical replenishment, search and rescue, and communications relay, according to the release.

Black Hawks For Civilian Use

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recently granted a new type of airworthiness certification for the military-designed Black Hawk S-70M helicopter, allowing civilian and commercial users to purchase the chopper directly from the factory, Lockheed Martin said.

“With type certification, new production S-70M Black Hawk helicopters in the latest configuration are available to the US commercial/civil market for the first time,” Sikorsky Global Commercial & Military Systems Vice President Jason Lambert said in a press release on Tuesday. Sikorsky is a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin.

The new type of FAA certification, known as a Restricted Category Special Airworthiness Certificate, is expected to broaden the market for military helicopters by allowing US civil and commercial operators to purchase choppers directly from the manufacturer, the release said.

While the FAA restricted category is not widely accepted outside the United States, Lockheed Martin said it plans to discuss with aviation regulators in other nations the prospect of validating the aircraft for civil operations, the release added.