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​Canberra issues RFI for light special forces helicopters

Australia has issued a request for information related to the acquisition of “light helicopters” to support special forces operations.

Issued on 25 September, the Department of Defence is seeking information about in-service helicopters - both commercial and military platforms - “optimised for dense urban environments,” which can be deployed by Boeing C-17 strategic transports.

“The helicopter should be capable of being fitted with simple, proven, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) equipment and weapons systems,” says the DoD.

It does not detail how many rotorcraft will be required, but indicates that deliveries would commence in 2023 should the acquisition move forward.

The requirement first came to light in Australia’s 2016 defence whitepaper.

“A new capability for the [Australian Defence Force] will be introduced with the acquisition of dedicated light helicopters to support Special Forces operations,” stated the document.

“These light helicopters can be rapidly deployed in C-17s, and can insert, extract and provide fire support for small teams of special forces undertaking tasks ranging from tactical observation through to counter-terrorism missions, or hostage recovery.”

Rotorcraft that could fit the requirement include single-engined types such as the Boeing AH-6 Little Bird and Airbus Helicopters H125M, or the larger twin-engined H145M. Leonardo Helicopters has recently promoted its AW109 Trekker for the mission. And at the Avalon air show in March 2017, US firm NorthStar Aviation promoted its 407 MRH Lightning, an armed version of the Bell 407.

Canberra also has a separate requirement for a new armed reconnaissance helicopter (ARH) to replace its fleet of 22 Airbus Helicopters Tigers. This has attracted interest from Boeing with the AH-64E Apache, Bell with the AH-1Z, and Airbus Helicopters with Tiger upgrades.

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