The Australian Defence Force’s fleet of helicopters is part-way through its second major transformation in 20 years. Following the decade-long multi-phased Project AIR 9000 helicopter fleet rationalisation effort which saw nine ADF helicopter types reduced to five, a further rejigging is now underway.


AIR 9000 was an ambitious program for such a small military force, with the retirement of eight ageing or obsolete helicopter types, and the introduction into service of five new models in quick succession.

Following the AIR 9000 Phase 1 scoping study, the first cab off the acquisition rank was the Phase 2 Additional Troop Lift helicopter which sought to augment the Australian Army’s fleet of 34 Sikorsky S-70A-9 Black Hawks with 12 new machines. Despite Army’s reported preference for the then-new Sikorsky UH-60M Black Hawk, the NHI/Eurocopter MRH 90 – a version based on Germany’s NH 90 TTH – was selected in 2005 on the back of a local assembly program and the development of an ongoing composite-manufacturing and maintenance capability.

Running concurrently with Phase 2, AIR 9000 Phase 3 sought to buy the Royal Australian Navy some time by implementing a Capability Assurance Program (CAP) for its ageing S-70B-2 Seahawks, pending a planned replacement of that airframe.

Some of the improvements included new sensors, improvements to the gearbox, a crash-data recorder, and a new countermeasures system and electronic support measures (ESM).

In 2006, AIR 9000 Phase 4 resulted in an order for 28 additional MRH 90s to replace the Black Hawks from 2012, while Phase 6 saw an additional six MRH 90s ordered to replace the Royal Australian Navy’s remaining Westland Sea King Mk.50s in the fleet logistics role. All of the Army and Navy MRH 90s were to be drawn from a common pool of machines supported by Australian Aerospace (now Airbus Australia Pacific) at Brisbane.

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

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  1. The thing about both the Taipan and Tiger purchases is,nobody seems to have the problems with them that we have. We are either using them wrong or the assembly and maintenance is just not up to scratch.

    • Yes, this is a very long story. Certainly in the early days of each project the prime contractor Eurocopter – who became Airbus – did not cover themselves in glory but Australia has uniquely managed to make the situation far worse than anyone could have imagined. I’ve almost given up trying to shed further light on what is going on because basically Army has decided to spend many billions of dollars moving to Apache and Blackhawk and no amount of logic will make the slightest difference.

    • Norway, Sweden and Germany have all reported major issues with their NH90 version’s availability and operating costs.
      The Norwegians have gone as far as cancelling any further purchases and are looking to return all the delivered units for a full refund.
      The Swedes are examining doing precisely what we have done in replacing their NH90’s, well ahead of schedule, with Blackhawks.
      The Germans report unacceptable availabilities for both their NH90’s and their Tigers
      It’s certainly not a uniquely Australian issue

      • I was aware of the situation in Norway; I’m less certain of the others. I think 15 countries use the TTH/NH90/MRH. Regarding Tigers, as far as I can tell France, Germany and Spain are fairly happy with theirs.

    • Huh? No one is having the.problems we are? Norway just abandoned their maritime model for the same reasons we did. They are duds.


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