Army to get 12 multirole helicopters, but decisions about overall fleet will be made later
Australia is to acquire 12 NH Industries NH90 multirole helicopters to equip an army aviation squadron. But it has temporarily suspended planning for a complete rationalisation of its military helicopter fleet pending a fast-track review of its Air 9000 programme.
The review is to be conducted over the next three to four weeks, with contract negotiations with Australian Aerospace - a wholly owned subsidiary of EADS - deferred until its completion.
More delays in starting negotiations for the A$1 billion ($725 million) deal are possible, with the Australian government calling elections for early October.
The Air 9000 competition had sought proposals from Sikorsky and Australian Aerospace for the establishment of a multiyear strategic partnership for rationalisation of the Australian defence force helicopter fleet. Sikorsky was asked to bid on supply of 48 UH-60M Black Hawks, while Australian Aerospace was asked to bid on 40 NH90s.
Those numbers were based on a government directive that the Air 9000 Phase Two requirement for a squadron of new trooplift helicopters would be linked with the programme's Phase Four requirement to upgrade or replace the army's Sikorsky S-70A-9 Black Hawks. The fast-track review aims to provide a revised strategic plan for the Phase Four requirement.
In his 31 August announcement of the win by NH90 - which will be designated the MRH90 in Australian service - defence minister Robert Hill advised that decisions on the Phase Four requirement would be made at an unspecified date. "For Phase Four, we will continue in accordance with the original timetable, which was that the government would decide in 2005-6," he said.
The separation of the two phases will affect the final structure of Australian industry involvement, with Australian Aerospace basing its proposals for a A$400 million investment on a 40-aircraft deal, rather than the 12-aircraft package selected for delivery from 2007-8.
PETER LA FRANCHI / CANBERRA
Source: Flight International