Canberra has officially added the NH Industries MRH90 helicopter to its Projects of Concern list, citing "significant technical issues" with the troubled helicopter programme.

Minister for defence materiel Jason Clare has mentioned the MRH90 in association with the list in statements earlier this year, but this is the first time the programme has officially been added.

Australia is obtaining 46 MRH90s under its AIR 9000 phase two, four and six programmes to replace the army's Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawks and the navy's Westland Sea Kings. It has taken delivery of just 13 aircraft, which are produced by Eurocopter's local arm Australian Aerospace.

RAN MRH90 web
© Royal Australian Navy

"The project is running late, primarily due to technical issues affecting the aircraft," said Clare. "The project has suffered delays of some two years to date. There remains a risk that the programme will be further delayed."

The programme underwent separate reviews in April and September. After the April review, prime contractor Australian Aerospace agreed to a remediation strategy.

After the September review, however, Clare said the project was still suffering from "significant" technical issues. "These have now triggered earlier indicators and warning thresholds for schedule and contractor performance," he said.

The programme's troubles could result in a capability gap for the navy and army. The navy will moderate this with "an additional short-term S-70B-2 Seahawk flight" and the army will extend its use of UH-60s.

The Projects of Concern list contains 10 programmes, six of which pertain to aircraft programmes. The other five aviation programmes on the list are the Boeing Wedgetail airborne early warning & control (AEW&C) aircraft (AIR 5077/3), tactical unmanned aerial vehicles (JOINT 129/2), the Airbus KC-30 multi-role tanker transport aircraft (AIR 5402), electronic support measures for Lockheed Martin AP-3C Orion aircraft (AIR 5276/8B) and the joint air-to-surface standoff missile (JASSM) for the F-18 A/B Hornet aircraft (AIR 5418 Phase 1).

The Wedgetail and KC-30 could be removed from the list soon as the systems have met or are close to meeting Australian requirements.

The Projects of Concern list was created in 2008 to help the government and the defence industry focus on solving troubled programmes. In June, reforms to the Projects of Concern concept were announced, essentially creating a more methodical system for adding, remediating and removing programmes from the list.

Source: Flight International