$5 billion, 30-year programme will co-ordinate five military helicopter programmes

The Australian Department of Defence will this week release a request for proposals (RFP) for a strategic industry partner to oversee the rationalisation of its military helicopter fleet. The 30-year Air 9000 programme is expected to be worth A$5 billion ($3.1 billion).

The RFP, to be issued on 7 May, will incorporate the Air 9000 Phase 2 requirement to supply an additional squadron of troop-lift helicopters for the Australian Army. It will also seek preliminary proposals for the Air 9000 Phase 4 requirement to replace or upgrade Sikorsky S-70A-9 Black Hawks.

Final Australian government approval was received late last month, resulting in a target in-service date for the troop-lift helicopters of late 2006, about a year earlier than planned.

RFP responses will be required by mid-August, and the DoD is limiting its evaluation to 2.5 months. Government consideration of the responses and the DoD's recommendation of a supplier will be complete by early December, with an announcement that month.

Delivery of at least two aircraft will be required by mid-2006, with four available by year-end for training. The rest of the new aircraft would be required during 2007.

The RFP will also seek proposals for rationalisation of the Australian Defence Force's helicopter fleet over 30 years, and three industry teams will dominate the contest.

AgustaWestland is teaming with BAE Systems Australia to offer the EH101 for Phase 2 and options on a combined fleet of EH101s and A109s as an Air 9000 Phase 4 solution. Eurocopter is teamed with Australian Aerospace and ADI to offer the NH Industries NH90. Sikorsky is teamed with Boeing Australia and will offer new-build and secondhand Black Hawks coupled with new-build S-92s for the Phase 2/4 requirements.

Air 9000 co-ordinates five helicopter projects. Phase 3 "Seahawk mid-life upgrade/replacement" merges two S-70 Seahawk projects to complete the machine's mid-life upgrade and the Royal Australian Navy's flight simulator. Phase 5 proposes a mid-life upgrade of the army's Boeing CH-47D Chinooks.

Source: Flight International