www.landforces.com.auThe 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.”

This is an excerpt from APDR. To read the full story, click here.

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Kym Bergmann is the editor for Asia Pacific Defence Reporter (APDR) and Defence Review Asia (DRA). He has more than 25 years of experience in journalism and the defence industry. After graduating with honours from the Australian National University, he joined Capital 7 television, holding several positions including foreign news editor and chief political correspondent. During that time he also wrote for Business Review Weekly, undertaking analysis of various defence matters.After two years on the staff of a federal minister, he moved to the defence industry and held senior positions in several companies, including Blohm+Voss, Thales, Celsius and Saab. In 1997 he was one of two Australians selected for the Thomson CSF 'Preparation for Senior Management' MBA course. He has also worked as a consultant for a number of companies including Raytheon, Tenix and others. He has served on the boards of Thomson Sintra Pacific and Saab Pacific.


  1. Being a person that has worked on both the black hawk and the MRH90, I have found the the MRH90 is to cumbersome to maintain out field, the amount of ground support equipment that is needed for day to day operations is massive compared to the black hawk. Also the ADF having limited strategic lift capacity again is a negative towards the MRH90 as you can only lift one at a time compared to 3 with the black hawk in the C17. Another aspect is the maintainence burden in regards to life limiting factors across the aircraft, black hawk everything lifes at the hour acquired by the aircraft where as the MRH90 is very dependent on type flying your doing. Manpower is another aspect in the MRH90 required twice as many personal to maintain compared to the black hawk for the same number of aircraft.
    These are my experiences of working on both and people may have a differing perspective

  2. What does “black hawk everything lifes at the hour acquired by the aircraft where as the MRH90 is very dependent on type flying your doing” actually mean?


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