Australia has selected NH Industries’ MRH90 to replace its navy Westland Sea King 50 and army Sikorsky S-70A Black Hawk utility helicopters, in a 34-aircraft acquisition worth A$2 billion ($1.48 billion). The country already has 12 MRH90s on order to meet an army requirement for additional troop lift capability, due for delivery between December 2007 and December 2009.

The aircraft will replace the Sea King fleet in 2010 and the Black Hawks from 2011-15. The safety of Australia’s Sea Kings has been under the spotlight since one of its aircraft crashed in Indonesia last year, killing nine personnel.

Selection of the MRH90 was not unexpected, the decision meeting a government desire to rationalise the number of helicopter types in Australian Defence Force service from the current 10. Selection of the Eurocopter-promoted MRH90 will also allow joint fleet management with those army assets now on order, says defence minister Brendan Nelson.

The deal includes an Australian industry package worth A$1.2 billion, with the helicopters to be manufactured at Eurocopter’s Australian Aerospace facility in Brisbane, Queensland, ensuring the long-term viability of the local production line. The twin-engined troop lift helicopters will be based at Royal Australian Air Force base Townsville, Holsworthy Barracks in Sydney and HMAS Albatross, Nowra and at a joint training facility at Oakey, Queensland.

Source: Flight International