Australia Tightens Eurocopter Ties With A$ 2B Buy of 34 NH90s
In June 2006, Australian Minister of Defence the Hon. Dr Brendan Nelson announced that Government has approved an A$ 2 billion (USD $1.475 billion at current rates) buy of 34 more NH90 multi-role helicopters.
Australia had already signed a contract for 12 “MRH-90” multi-role helicopters in June 2005 as additional troop lift for the Army, and delivery of that batch is scheduled from December 2007 – December 2009. These additional aircraft will bring the total MRH-90 fleet to 46. Initial deliveries of all MRH90s are still slated for December 2007, with 3 more MRH 90 delivered in 2008 and then 7-8 per year delivered until 2014. Deliveries of Australian-assembled helicopters will commence in December 2008. As these new helicopters are delivered, Australia’s old Sea Kings will be retired in 2010, followed by progressive replacement of the smaller S-70A-9 Black Hawks between 2011-2015.
Anticipated benefits from this consolidation into a single helicopter type include greater operational flexibility and efficiency through common operational, training and logistic systems and a capability to rotate personnel, aircraft, spare parts and role-specific equipment between troop lift, special operations and maritime support commitments. Some of the language and initiatives in the Minister’s statement may also have long-term implications for Australian procurement.
Final assembly will be performed by fully-owned Eurocopter subsidiary Australian Aerospace in Brisbane, and the MRH-90s will be based at RAAF base Townsville; Holsworthy Barracks in Sydney; and HMAS Albatross in Nowra. A contingent will also be based at a joint training facility at Oakey in Queensland. All of these facilities will be upgraded as part of the overall deployment package.
The roll-out of the initial Navy capability will proceed with one helicopter that is sea-cleared for daylight operations for a period of 30 days, which allows at least nominal replacement of the Sea Kings by 2010. This is expected to increase to 2 MRH90s at sea for 90 days by end 2011. The Army’s initial operating capability is planned for mid-2011. It will start with delivery of the capability to A Squadron of the 5th Aviation Regiment in Townsville. The DMO expects that the 3rd helicopter for the Navy will become available to go to sea in 2012.
The Hon. Dr. Nelson’s June 19/06 press release also spoke to Australia’s overall infrastructure and industrial ties. Note that Australia is also a customer for 22 of EADS Eurocopter’s Tiger ARH attack/reconnaissance helicopters:
“As these MRH 90 aircraft will be assembled in Australia this acquisition of at least 34 aircraft will provide significant opportunities for Australian industry and the Australian Defence Force (ADF) will gain an operating capability within a relatively short time-frame.
The emphasis of the Australian industry package, worth $1.2 billion, is on the development and sustainment of critical aircraft mission system capability. The long term viability of the Australian MRH 90 assembly line will be maximized, ensuring greater development of the skill base required to support the MRH 90 into the future through a strategy aimed at promoting Australian industry as part of the Eurocopter global supply chain.”
Given the recent emphasis in Australia’s Defence Capability Plan (DCP) 2006-16 re: a more standardized and interoperable helicopter fleet, this statement is likely to be significant. Especially when one considers the level of announced funding for that initiative – over A$ 3.7 billion initially stated, rising to A$ 4.2 billion in subsequent statements.
Updates and Key Events
April 2007: The Australian DMO’s On Target publication runs “Sustainment Opportunities Exist Through MRH90 Purchase.” Excerpts…
“In December this year a 10 year sustainment contract will come into effect for the MRH-90 Helicopter with the delivery of the first two helicopters to the Australian Defence Forces (ADF). [Defence Materiel Organisation (DMO) Program Director, Mark Remmers] said that is it likely that the NZ Government will be looking for synergies with the Australian program as far as sustainment, support and training are concerned.”
Remmers also offered specifics re: delivery dates and expected operational capability:
“The project looks set to deliver the first two MRH 90 at in service date on 18 December this year, meeting the Defence White Paper requirement, set in December 2000. Three more MRH 90 will be delivered in 2008 and then seven to eight per year until 2014. Deliveries of Australian Assembled helicopters will commence in December 2008…”
“AIR 9000 is purchasing up to three MRH 90 simulators, where as, in previous helicopter procurements such as the Black Hawk the purchase of a simulator has been a project in its own right… We are focused on establishing an initial operating capability for Navy with replacement of the Sea Kings, to be achieved by mid 2010. The role out of the initial Navy capability will proceed with one helicopter- sea cleared for daylight operations for a period of 30 days, increasing to two MRH 90s at sea for 90 days by end 2011. I anticipate that the third helicopter for Navy will become available to go to sea in 2012. Army’s initial operating capability is planned for mid 2011. It will start with delivery of the capability to A Squadron of the 5th Aviation Regiment in Townsville.”
March 29/07: A DoD release announces the MRH90’s maiden flight in Marignane, France, and states that:
“The lifetime real dollars project value for the total acquisition of all 46 aircraft is around A$ 4.2 billion. This includes an A$ 1.2 billion Australian Industry Capability package that focuses on state of the art composite construction, avionics, turbine engine assembly and maintenance, and ongoing software support. The project also includes the construction of new or upgraded facilities in Townsville, Oakey, Nowra and Holsworthy.”
June 19/06: Australia approves the acquisition plan for 34 more NH90-TTH helicopters plus 3 MRH90 simulators at A$2 billion (about $1.475 billion) under the Australian AIR9000 Programme. See above.
June 2/05: Australia signs the Acquisition Contract for 12 NH90-TTH helicopters. The contract is signed in Canberra between the Australian Defence Materiel Organisation and Australian Aerospace, the local fully-owned subsidiary of Eurocopter. According to the Australian AIR9000 programme, the 12 NH90 ordered are identified under the designation “MRH90,” standing for “Multi Role Helicopter.”
Australia is the 11th nation to order the NH90. NHI release.
Aug 31/04: The Australian Government Prime Minister John Howard and Defence Minister Robert Hill confirmed the selection of the NH90 as a future troop transport helicopter. The intended order is 12 NH90-TTH helicopters for the Army, but no contract is signed. Sen. Hill said that “This will bolster Australia’s counter-terrorism capabilities by releasing a Black Hawk squadron to provide dedicated support to our Special Forces on the east coast.” Australian DoD release | NHI release.
Additional Readings & Sources
- DID FOCUS Article – NH90: Europe’s Medium Helicopter Contender. Covers the entire multinational program, including ongoing developments.
- NHIndustrie (June 19/06) – 34 NH90 ADDITIONAL HELICOPTERS FOR AUSTRALIA