The New Zealand Government is still keeping its options open on the selection of a new naval helicopter, in spite of Australia's recent decision to opt for the Kaman SH-2G(A) Super Seasprite over the rival Westland Super Lynx.

New Zealand's recently formed coalition Government is not now expected to meet to decide upon its choice of helicopter until before the end of February.

The matter will be considered by a cabinet sub-committee, including the prime minister, deputy prime minister and the ministers of defence and foreign affairs, before recommendations are passed to the full cabinet for a vote.

One senior official, in the meantime, is playing down growing suggestions that, in the end, Wel- lington will simply fall in line with Canberra's selection of the SH-2G.

"You can't automatically assume that, because Australia went for brand X, New Zealand will also do the same," warns deputy secretary for defence Robin Johansen.

Australia's decision does appear to leave its Tasman neighbour in a slight quandary, however. The New Zealand Government wants to cut costs through equipment compatibility with Australia and has been delaying its decision since July, partly to allow the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) time to complete its evaluation (Flight International, 22-28 January)

The Royal New Zealand Navy's (RNZN) needs differ from those of the RAN in that it has a more urgent requirement for a lower-specification machine to replace its elderly Westland Wasps.

It has not asked for a full glass cockpit and is looking at the shorter-range British Aerospace Sea Skua, or Hughes AGM-65 Maverick anti-ship missile rather than the heavier Kongsberg Penguin weapon chosen by the RAN.

The RNZN completed its technical evaluation in 1996 and is believed to favour the Lynx. A final political decision, taking into consideration procurement and through-life support costs for six helicopters, logistics, training and the involvement of local industry, has still to taken.

The Royal New Zealand Air Force, in the meantime, has taken delivery of two extra Bell UH-1H helicopters. The aircraft, bought in the USA, will be used to top up the air force's fleet of 13 UH-1Hs. One will be stored in reserve.

Source: Flight International