Australia's Kaman SH-2G (A) Super Seasprite helicopter programme is continuing to experience problems, with delivery of the prototype full-capability aircraft delayed until the second half of this year and milestone payments to the US manufacturer being withheld.

The additional six to nine-month hold-up comes despite the launch of a programme in late 2002 to see full-capability aircraft delivered by late 2004 for operational acceptance trials by the Royal Australian Navy. Continuing problems include major software difficulties with the Link 11 tactical datalink system.

Australian Department of Defence half-yearly budget documents released last month advised the "integration of the full-capability software [for the Integrated Tactical Avionics System – ITAS] is progressing and is now scheduled to be completed by mid-2005".

The DoD has suspended payments of A$31 million ($24.3 million) to Kaman because of the new delays. The half-year budget documents advise that total forecast outlays on the project during the current Australian financial year were expected to total A$60 million, but that only A$29 million will be spent up to 20 June. "The revised estimate reflects reprogramming due to slippage of the first full-capability helicopter from late 2004-5 to early 2005-6. This milestone includes a significant single milestone payment negotiated in 2002 to act as an incentive schedule," the document says.

Kaman booked additional losses of $1.6 million on the SH-2G (A) project in its third quarter results released last November, with an updated figure to be released later this month as part of its year-end results. The company's third-quarter results indicated that it has borrowings of $20 million associated with the Australian project, with these expected to remain outstanding until acceptance of the full-capability aircraft.

Australia has provisionally accepted eight Super Seasprites for utility and interim training roles, with two more being locally assembled to the same standard over the next three months. Aircraft 11 is still in the USA to support ITAS software development work.

Kaman was awarded a $661 million contract by the Australian DoD in June 1997 to build the helicopters using refurbished ex-US Navy airframes, with final deliveries supposed to have taken place by mid-2002. Total Australian expenditure on the project was A$889 million to 30 June 2004, with the overall project cost capped at A$1 billion.

Source: Flight International