7 February 2024

Army aviation helicopter training and sustainment gets much-needed boost

| Andrew McLaughlin
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The H135 Juno helicopters being leased are almost identical to 15 EC135T2_ training helicopters in ADF service at Nowra. Photo: ADF.

The Australian Army’s Aviation capabilities will soon get a much-needed boost with the announcement of an augmented training system for the Army, an acceleration of new aircraft deliveries, and several new and extended sustainment contracts.

The announcement comes during a controversial period for Army Aviation following the crash of an MRH 90 Taipan and the loss of four soldiers in July 2023. After the crash, all 40 Taipans were grounded pending an investigation before the government’s surprise decision in September to withdraw them permanently from service.

Since then, revelations that the helicopters were being broken up and scrapped instead of possibly being put to use by Ukraine or held in emergency reserve are yet to be fully-addressed by the government.

Just two days after the Taipan crash on 28 July, the first three of 40 new Sikorsky UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters that will replace the MRH 90s were delivered to Australia, and these aircraft have been gradually working up at the Holsworthy Barracks in Sydney. During this time, Army aircrew have also been training alongside their US Army colleagues in the US.

READ ALSO Army’s MRH 90 Taipan helicopters expected to be scrapped and buried despite years of useful life remaining

The government has now announced that nine more Black Hawks will be delivered this year – three more than had been planned – under an expedited arrangement with the US Army. This will provide for a limited capability of 12 helicopters by the end of 2024.

The US Army has also facilitated the early delivery of a Black Hawk aircrew training simulator and other essential items. The remaining 28 aircraft will be delivered in batches of six or seven per year from 2025 to 2029.

Also announced this week was an arrangement with the UK to lease five Airbus H135 Juno helicopters to bolster Army’s helicopter training and light transport requirements for a period of five years.

The H135 Juno is similar to the Airbus EC135T2+ aircraft, 15 of which are in service with the ADF’s joint-Army and Navy Helicopter Aircrew Training System (HATS) based at HMAS Albatross at Nowra. The new leased machines will be operated at the Army Aviation Centre at Oakey near Toowoomba in Queensland.

UH-60M Black Hawk

One of the Army’s first three UH-60M Black Hawks during training at Holsworthy in Sydney. Photo: ADF.

The UK Royal Air Force (RAF) operates a fleet of 29 H135s at No.1 Flying Training School (1 FTS) based at RAF Shawbury near Birmingham on an industry-operated services contract, and it appears the Australian aircraft may be being drawn from these stocks. The release stressed that the cost of the lease will come from the existing Defence budget.

The announcement also included a large helicopter sustainment component, with contracts totalling $830 million signed to maintain the Army’s 14 CH-47F Chinooks heavy-lift, 40 new Black Hawks and the 29 new AH-64E Apache Guardian attack helicopters in service.

A new $38 million contract extension has been awarded to Boeing Defence Australia to extend the Chinook Integrated Support Services Contract for an additional 12 months to August 2028. The Chinooks have been in service for nearly a decade and have proven to be invaluable in recent flood and fire events, especially since the withdrawal from service of the MRH 90s.

READ ALSO US to accelerate delivery of new Black Hawk helicopters to Australia

On top of this, Boeing Australia has also been awarded a $306 million contract for a seven-year Initial Support Contract for the Apache helicopters. This contract will deliver maintenance, engineering, training and logistics services for the machines – the first of which are scheduled for delivery in 2025 – and is expected to support 230 fulltime jobs in Townsville, Brisbane and Oakey.

And Lockheed Martin Australia has been awarded a five-year integrated support contract to provide specialist support for the new Black Hawks at Holsworthy in NSW and at Oakey in Queensland, and a central warehouse in western-Sydney.

Lockheed Martin through its Sikorsky Australia subsidiary already supports the Royal Australian Navy’s fleet of MH-60R Seahawk helicopters at Nowra. Due to the many similarities between the UH-60M and MH-60R aircraft, Sikorsky Australia’s technicians and logisticians will also have a prominent role in the Black Hawk’s sustainment.

CH-47F Chinook

An Army Chinook undertaking relief work north of Cairns in the aftermath of last December’s Tropical Cyclone Jasmine. Photo: ADF.

Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Richard Marles expressed his gratitude to the UK and US for their support in enhancing Army’s battlefield aviation capability.

“We need a highly capable Army,” he said.

“When the tough but necessary decision was made last year to expedite the withdrawal of the MRH 90s from service, it meant that we needed to look at all options when it came to filling the capability gap and the training which our servicemen and women need.

READ ALSO Sikorsky Australia completes deep maintenance of US Navy helicopter at Nowra

“We have been working with the US and UK on ways in which we can bridge this gap, and their support and willingness with the acceleration of the Black Hawks and leasing of training helicopters will have a significant impact.”

Minister for Defence Industry Pat Conroy said the contracts would support hundreds of well-paid jobs.

“The Albanese Government is delivering on its commitment to support the Australian defence industry and provide ADF personnel with the enhanced capabilities they need to do their job and keep Australians safe.”

Lockheed Martin Australia and New Zealand Chief Executive Warren McDonald said it was a privilege to support the Australian Army.

“As the manufacturer of the UH-60M we are honoured to see the Black Hawk return to Australia, and we are delighted to partner with the Australian Army to sustain the UH-60M with excellence.”

Original Article published by Andrew McLaughlin on Riotact.

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