EADS subsidiary begins deliveries of 18 licence-assembled reconnaissance helicopters

The Australian Army took delivery of its first of 18 locally assembled Eurocopter Tiger armed reconnaissance helicopters (ARH) from EADS subsidiary Australian Aerospace on 18 July, as the company prepares to retool its Brisbane facility for assembly of NH Industries’ MRH90 from late 2006.

First local Tiger

Local assembly of the Tiger began in March 2003, with ground tests conducted from May 2004 and the debut flight achieved last December. A second Australian Aerospace-completed aircraft is now in flight test, with two more in ground testing and another six in assembly.

Australia’s 22-strong ARH fleet – to also comprise four aircraft completed in France – is expected to achieve initial operating capability in June 2007, Defence Materiel Organisation director general of army aviation systems Brig Mark Patch told Shephard’s Heli-Pacific conference last week. The Brisbane site was also earlier this year selected for the final assembly of eight of the army’s 12 MRH90 multirole helicopters.

Work will start in late 2006 or early 2007, says Australian Aerospace vice-president of production and military services Robert Hunter. “As we roll out of assembly of the Tiger there will be a three- to four-month gap to retool and retrain.” However, he says MRH90 work will only sustain the line for a further 18-24 months, and that the company is pursuing a follow-on contract for about 28 aircraft to replace the army’s Sikorsky S-70A-9 Black Hawk utility helicopters under the third phase of Australia’s Air 9000 requirement.

Department of Defence Air 9000 Phase 2 project director Mark Remmers says options under review include upgrading the Black Hawks to the S-70M configuration or acquiring additional MRH90s.

AgustaWestland’s proposed A149 is another potential candidate for the requirement, which is expected to go through the approval process later this year.

A capability committee is also reviewing options to replace the navy’s S-70B Seahawks under Phase 4 of Air 9000. Cdr Antonio Di Pietro, director of Australia’s maritime aviation aerospace development branch, says a multi-phase block upgrade could extend airframe life until 2025, but that new aircraft options are also being analysed.

Di Pietro says the navy will decide on a replacement for its Eurocopter Squirrel trainers in 2007-8, with the selected type also hoped to replace its six Westland Sea Kings for training and maritime support missions, potentially under a joint privatised helicopter training system with the army.


Source: Flight International