The quick summary is that the ADF will spend more than $10.5 billion in the next few years moving from the Tiger ARH and Taipan MRH to Apache AH-64Es and Blackhawk UH-60Ms. An unkind assessment is that the Army are in the process of replacing perfectly good helicopters with a lot of life left in them for older generation machines for reasons that are sometimes opaque and that have never been adequately debated in public, or in Parliament.
The series of decisions were rolled out last year. On July 3, Congress was notified of a possible sale to Australia of 29 AH-64Es and associated spares and equipment at a cost of US $3.5 billion that will replace 22 Tigers. Then on October 8, there was a similar notification of 12 MH-60Rs to replace the RAN’s six Taipans – admittedly with a formidable anti-submarine warfare capability added to the mix. The on December 10, Defence Minister Dutton announced that 40 UH-60 Blackhawks would replace an identical number of Taipans in service with the Army.
All of these decisions have taken place without a competition, or even a tender. That’s $10.5 billion awarded sole source to U.S. companies, with zero Australian content – though they will be supported locally. On top of that, the U.S. is a decade away from fielding new generation helicopter family under the massive Future Vertical Lift program, so the timing for buying Apaches and Blackhawks designed in the 1970s could hardly be worse.
While the cost of the Blackhawks is not known – Congress does not yet appear to have been notified of a Foreign Military Sales request – data from other international programs indicates that the bill will be around $3 billion. This is also supported by MH-60R pricing, which includes extra electronics such as a dipping sonar and extra data link, but is nevertheless identical in most other respects to a UH-60M. The decision to acquire more Blackhawks was announced on the day when the last of the original fleet, ordered in 1986, retired from service.
Justifying the purchase of new Blackhawks, Minister Dutton said: “The MRH90 helicopter fleet has not met contracted availability requirements nor the expected cost of ownership ahead of its planned withdrawal from service in 2037.”