Story prompts defence minister to order investigation into possible breaches in rules over helicopter procurement

Australian defence minister Robert Hill has confirmed that an investigation is under way into alleged breaches in the tender evaluation process for the Australian Defence Force's Project Air 9000 helicopter rationalisation project.

The minister has told the Australian Senate that "certain allegations were raised a short time ago in relation to the tender process surrounding Air 9000". He said these had been referred by the secretary of the Australian department of defence, Ric Smith, to the defence inspector general for investigation.

Flight International revealed last week that the investigation was prompted by allegations from within the Australian Department of Defence (DoD) that undue interference had occurred in modelling of contender proposals by the Australian Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO).

The DSTO is alleged to have been repeatedly directed by the Australian Army to change the parameters of modelling of the AgustaWestland EH101 helicopter to diminish its competitiveness against rival bids by Sikorsky Australia and Eurocopter Pacific. Flight International investigations indicate the allegations first began circulating within the Australian DoD in early October, more than a month before any official internal complaint was made.

Responding to Senate questioning about the investigation, Hill said that he "trusts that matters will be resolved in the near future".

He said: "A process exists within defence in order that such allegations can be dealt with expeditiously and properly and that is certainly the way the government is approaching this particular matter".

Asked if the investigation had resulted in the suspension of the Air 9000 project, Hill replied that "it has not been frozen".

The minister indicated he did not expect the investigation to cause delays in the project. However, the DoD has already missed key target dates in late November for the project to be considered by the National Security Committee of the Australian Cabinet.

Source: Flight International