Australia Readies Large Helicopter Acquisition Purchases

Australia is set to acquire an additional 13 Sikorsky MH-60R Romeo multimission maritime helicopters that will bring the Royal Australian Navy’s inventory up to 36 units. The procurement is expected to cost AUD2.5 billion ($1.7 billion) and will enable the RAN to retire its small fleet of six MRH90 Taipan maritime utility helicopters. The MRH90 is the Australian designation for NH Industries’ NH90 platform.

Another major helicopter acquisition will run under a parallel timeline. This program involves the procurement of 29 Boeing AH-64E Apache attack helicopters selected in early 2021 as the preferred solution to meet the Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter (ARH) requirement under Project LAND 4503 Armed Reconnaissance Capability, intended as a  program to replace the Australian Army’s fleet of Airbus Helicopters Tigers.

An Australian government-to-government Foreign Military Sales (FMS) request for the procurement of AH-64E Apache attack helicopters was then approved by the U.S. State Department back in June 2021, and the estimated AUD5.5 billion ($3.89 billion) sale is now finalized.

Australia ordered 22 Tigers for the ARH role back in 2001. The Tiger ARH procurement encountered issues from the introduction of the first unit into service in 2004, including parts failures and complaints of inadequate support arrangements. Even though the entire fleet was delivered by December 2011, the Tigers continued to fail to achieve  Initial Operational Capability (IOC).

It was not until April 2016 that the fleet finally achieved  Full Operational Capability (FOC), but by then the Australian government had decided to forgo a capability upgrade, instead electing to retire the fleet in 2026.

The MRH90 acquisition mirrored that of the Tiger in encountering delivery delays, which hindered the RAN as it had earlier retired its legacy fleet of SH-3 Sea King anti-submarine warfare (ASW) helicopters in December 2011 without a ready replacement. The first MRH90 was officially delivered to the RAN on October 14, 2014, and, after twice suspending delivery of the helicopters (mostly related to component failures on the Rolls-Royce/Turbomeca RTM322 engine), Australia accepted the last MRH90 in early 2019.

Australia expects deliveries of both the AH-64E Apaches and additional MH-60R Romeos to begin in 2025.

About Daniel Darling

Dan Darling is a senior analyst covering both the Europe and Asia-Pacific regions for Forecast International's International Military Markets group.

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