Helicopter support


Australia’s helicopter support base

Nigel Pittaway / Melbourne

Three phases of Project AIR 9000, the Australian Defence Force’s helicopter roadmap for the future, are due to progress to either type selection or contract over the next year or two, realising a reduction in the number of platforms flown.

AIR 9000 Phase 5C will see seven Boeing CH-47F Chinooks acquired to replace earlier variants in service with the Army’s 5th Aviation Regiment in Townsville; The hard-fought battle to supply a new naval combat helicopter should be over by mid-year, with either the Lockheed Martin/Sikorsky MH-60R ‘Romeo’ Seahawk or NHI NH 90 Naval Frigate Helicopter selected to replace the RANs existing Seahawk fleet under Phase 8; and Phase 7 will see a new training Helicopter Aircrew Training System (HATS) acquired to replace Army Kiowas and Navy Squirrels.

Some industry insiders predict that once these three outstanding phases of AIR 9000 are finalised, there will not be another military helicopter type acquired by the ADF for around 25 years.

For industry this means a shift from marketing to Through Life Support if Original Equipment Manufacturers are to retain a footprint in the country in years to come. In addition, the shift towards training being undertaken by defence & industry partnerships will provide further opportunities over the next 20 years or so.


AgustaWestland announced at Avalon that it was forming an industry team with CAE and BAE Systems for the Phase 7 bid, whereby it would offer a variant of the AW109, together with associated support services. Under the plan, CAE would be responsible for the design and manufacture of the synthetic training programme and BAE Systems would have the lead for maintenance and support services.

The company had also previously teamed with Boeing Australia to bid the AW109 for the AIR 9000 Phase 7 competition, but this agreement was subsequently allowed to lapse.

Four AW109E Power helicopters are supplied to the ADF by Raytheon Australia under a ‘turnkey’ Retention and Motivation Initiative with Raytheon Australia.


Australian Aerospace is a major player in both helicopter manufacture and support in Australia. A subsidiary of Eurocopter and part of the EADS Group, the company is assembling Tiger Armed Reconnaissance Helicopters and MRH 90s at its Brisbane facility.

It is teamed with Kellogg Brown and Root (KBR) and the Commonwealth to supply the Army with a training system for the Tiger, and with Thales for both Tiger and MRH 90 simulators. Tiger and MRH 90 modification is also undertaken in Brisbane and the company supports both types with maintenance and logistics at Oakey, Darwin and Townsville.
The company is also teamed with Turbomeca Australia, which overhauls the RTM332 engines of the MRH 90 at its Bankstown facility.

It has recently established a composites facility not far from Brisbane airport which builds components for the parent Tiger NH 90 and Super Puma production lines in France.

Australian Aerospace is bidding the NH 90 NFH for the Phase 8 competition and if it is successful the company says it will assemble all bar the first four in Brisbane. Access Economics figures last year estimated the company will spend at least $2.7 billion during the Life of Type of the MRH 90, contributing over $800 million to the Australian GDP in the process. The company says that the NFH would contribute an extra $660 million worth of work to local industry through to 2021.

The company also intends to offer its EC135 or EC635 (or a combination of both) for the Phase 7 training helicopter contest, though these would be built in Europe if a contract is forthcoming. Unlike the other bidders it has yet to announce whether it will bid in its own right, or in partnership with others. It has also indicated that it may also team with other companies’ as the platform supplier for their bids.


BAE Systems Australia is currently responsible for maintenance of the Army’s Black Hawks and Chinooks in Townsville and the Navy’s Seahawks at Nowra.

In 2009 the company opened a new purpose-built facility in Townsville to support its Black Hawk and Chinook maintenance activities. In March BAE Systems Australia announced it had won a $20.9 million contract for the deeper maintenance of the Army’s six-strong CH-47D Chinook fleet. The work will see the company support the Chinook until it is replaced by the newer CH-47F later in the decade.

The Chinook contract follows on from the December 2009 announcement that BAE Systems Australia had won $240 million worth of support and maintenance work on the Black Hawk and Seahawk fleets.

It has also recently completed an upgrade of the Seahawk FLIR and EWSP systems, an activity acquired through its takeover of Tenix in 2008.

The company has recently announced a teaming agreement for the Phase 7 competition with AgustaWestland and CAE. Under the agreement it would be the lead for all maintenance and support services.


Bell Helicopters has supplied rotary wing platforms to the ADF since the Bell 47G Sioux and UH-1B Iroquois entered service in 1960 and 1962 respectively. It is the OEM for the CAC-assembled Kiowa fleet and has supported Australian military helicopter operations for over 50 years..

In 2010 the company announced that it would team with Raytheon Australia to offer its Bell 429 medium turbine helicopter for AIR 9000 Phase 7.


Boeing Defence Australia has been running the Army Aviation Training and Training Support (AATTS) scheme to train Army Aviation since 2007 and will continue in the role until the Phase 7 training system comes into service.

Under the AATTS contract, Boeing Defence Australia provides pilot, aircrew and technician training at Oakey, as well as operational level maintenance at Holsworthy and pilot and technician training at Townsville.

As well as training pilots, the AATTS scheme provides Aircrewman training on two Bell 412 helicopters, operated by Australian Helicopters. Boeing Defence Australia also provides instructors for the RAEME Aircraft Maintenance School to train Black Hawk technicians, Airframe/Engine and Avionics Technicians, Structural Fitters and various ancillary training courses. It also provides training on the Chinook at Townsville.

Since its inception, the AATTS scheme has trained 120 pilots and flown 7000 training sorties and over 8000 flying hours. In April the company celebrated the milestone of having supported the Army’s 27 Kiowas for 60,000 flight hours, through AATTS and previous contracts held by its heritage businesses..

At Avalon it announced it would join Thales Australia in the bid for AIR 9000 Phase 7, but had previously been associated with AgustaWestland.


Bristow Helicopters Australia has been responsible for the support of the Singapore Air Force Super Puma fleet, which has been based at Oakey since1998. It is also the largest provider of helicopter services to the oil and gas industry in Australia, with a fleet of around 35 helicopters.

At the Avalon show, the company announced that it would team with Lockheed Martin for AIR 9000 Phase 7.


Lockheed Martin is a co-prime contractor for the MH-60R Romeo helicopter which is currently being built for the United States Navy and on offer to the RAN for AIR 9000 Phase 8. The company is responsible for the integrated mission systems and digital cockpit and is partnered with Sikorsky (airframe design and manufacture), General Electric (engines), Raytheon (Airborne Low Frequency Sonar and Multi-Spectral Targeting System) and CAE (simulators).

Together with the other partners, Lockheed Martin has been actively seeking Australian companies with which to collaborate to realise its goal of $1.5 billion worth of local industry work should it win Phase 8.

It is seeking Australian suppliers to contribute to the recently-established Global Supply Chain and has identified the manufacture of weapons pylons for the Romeo as an early example.

The company is also a major training systems provider, through its Global Training and Logistics division, and has announced its intention to bid for the Phase 7 training system. Although it has teamed with Bristow Helicopters Australia for HATS, Lockheed Martin says it is not able to nominate a preferred platform or supplier until the Commonwealth releases its Request For Tender later this year.


Raytheon Australia supplies four AgustaWestland AW109E Power helicopters to the Australian Defence Force under a Retention and Motivation Initiative. The $24 million RMI was signed in December 2006 to provide a fully ‘turn-key’ operation which guarantees 1500 flying hours per year. Three of the AW109s are operated by the Navy from Nowra, to provide ongoing training for pilots and observers who would have operated the SH-2G(A) Seasprites had they entered service as planned. The RMI was extended last year to encompass a fourth aircraft, operated by the Aerospace Operational Support Group at RAAF Edinburgh.

In July 2009 the company, with partner Airwork (NZ) Limited, won an initial five year contract to provide In Service Support to the RANs fleet of AS350BA Ecureuil (Squirrel) Lead In Helicopter Trainers. The performance-based contract also has four one-year extension options to ensure the Squirrel fleet is adequately supported until the HATS system becomes operational.

In August 2010, Raytheon Australia announced that it would join with Bell Helicopter Textron to propose the Bell 429 for AIR 9000 Phase 7.


Sikorsky, through its Helitech business in Brisbane, has supported Kiowa and Black Hawk operations in Australia for many years and offers logistics, engineering, component overhaul, aircraft maintenance and training, for both military and civil helicopters,

As a co-prime contractor in ‘Team Romeo’ the company is promoting local industry involvement to realise the $1.5 billion target should its bid for Phase 8 prove successful. Sikorsky says that more than $300 million of the total would be for Through Life Support of the type at maintenance and logistics support centre it plans to establish at Nowra.

Part of this plan would see the remanufacture of 34 ex-Army Black Hawks to utility (troop transport), configuration, and 16 ex-Navy Seahawks for Coastguard/SAR over a nine or ten year period. This will allow them to be onwards-sold to paramilitary organisations overseas. This work would be conducted in Brisbane at the Helitech facility and the company says there is potential for further work from regional air arms.

During the Avalon airshow Sikorsky signed Memoranda of Understandings with Quickstep Holdings and Trakka Corporation for potential participation in Sikorsky’s Australian Industry Participation Programme and also to become recognised suppliers to Sikorsky’s Global Supply Chain. The MoUs are however contingent on the MH-60R being chosen for Phase 8.

Sikorsky says it is interested in participating in the Phase 7 competition as an airframe supplier and/or support provider, but concedes that its candidate, the S-76D, is at the high end of the market for a twin-engined helicopter.


Thales Australia is a major maintenance, spares and systems supplier for the Tiger and MRH 90 helicopters now entering service. It also operates the Tiger simulator at Oakey (and, in the near future, Darwin) and will be responsible for the MRH 90 simulators at Oakey and Townsville. Both the Tiger and MRH 90 simulators are products of the parent Thales Company.

Thales also manufactures and supports the TopOwl Helmet Mounted Sight Display (HMSD) used by Tiger and MRH 90 crews.

At the Avalon show, Thales Australia signed an MoU with Boeing Defence Australia to bid for Phase 7, but the two companies say they are yet to make a decision on whether to team with a helicopter manufacturer or to source a platform directly.





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