Asian Press Group banner 728x90At a press conference yesterday, Acting Defence Minister Pat Conroy hinted that Australia’s fleet of Taipan helicopters were not returned to service after a fatal crash because of safety concerns. In fact, he, and actual Defence Minister Richard Marles, should be fully aware that the accident – which tragically took four lives – had nothing to do with the helicopter itself.

Instead, when asked why the Taipans are being dismantling and buried rather than donated to Ukraine, Minister Conroy continued the government’s smear campaign, saying:

“And I should also make the point that there are multiple crash investigations still going on right now to determine the cause of that tragic accident in Queensland. So, it would be irresponsible for us to move away from the disposal strategy that we’ve locked on in.”

While the full investigation into the July crash during Exercise Talisman Sabre will take many more months to complete, Defence had access to the vital Flight Data Recorder (FDR) and voice recorder within days.  These show conclusively that there were no issues whatsoever with the helicopter – all its systems were functioning normally up until the moment of impact.

Confirmation of this took place on October 9, when the CEO of NATO Helicopter Industries – the consortium that manufactures Taipan and in which Airbus are the majority shareholder – Axel Aloccio said about the Australian grounding:

“We want to make clear that we believe that this decision is not linked to any particular safety concern regarding the NH90 (Taipan)….We have not identified any technical issue or any malfunction, or alarm or alert…. The aircraft… has worked without any particular issue. That is what we see in the analysis of the FDR data.”

This information was conveyed to Minister Marles soon after the crash, who nevertheless decided not to return the Taipans to service, even though they could have resumed flying. Why he approved of the further bizarre strategy of their destruction rather than storage or gifting them to Ukraine is unknown.

The NH90 / Taipan family of helicopters are remarkably safe with many more safety features than the Black Hawks that will replace them.  They have better night vision equipment, fully digital flight controls, a weather radar and flotation devices, among many other features.  If Ministers Marles and Conroy could be bothered just to look at Wikipedia, they can see that since 2008 there have been 11 accidents leading to the loss of eight lives – including the four Australians – have been reported across a fleet of 500 helicopters with a quarter of a million flying hours.

In fact, the Taipan smear campaign predates the current government by about a decade and has led to much of the local media adding the word “troubled” to every mention of the aircraft.  As APDR has been reporting at length, on most occasions when the Army has grounded the fleet it has been for spurious reasons – or because it has failed to implement the manufacturer’s recommendations for preventative maintenance.  A good example was during Talisman Sabre in 2019 when the Taipans were grounded because of a tail rotor vibration issue.

Astute observers saw that New Zealand kept flying their identical NH90s during the exercise because they had correctly carried out the necessary modification, which Australia had ignored.  Following the fatal Talisman Sabre crash last year, the RNZAF came under Australian pressure to ground their helicopters to not make our people look bad – but within a couple of days they were flying again.

Peak Australian stupidity was reached earlier in the program when someone in Army noticed that the cargo hook for the Taipans contained cadmium.  Cadmium is one of the most common elements in commercial and military aviation and even though it is hazardous by itself when bonded with other metals is totally safe.  However, that wasn’t good enough for Army and consequently – and at great expense – Australia ordered the manufacture of a unique set of cargo hooks from which all cadmium has been removed.

Acting Minister Conroy also asserted that the Taipans had to be trashed because no one was interested in buying them because Defence had followed a “process” and hadn’t found any international interest.  It would take many months just to put together a complete package for the sale of the helicopters, their training devices, spare parts, and support equipment.  In this context the “process” that Defence claims to have followed must be no more than an attempted act of mental telepathy on the part of someone in Army Aviation.

Hopefully, the Ministers – and their officials – will be obliged to supply many more details about why they are destroying $900 million worth of Taipans. In the meantime, Ukraine will just have to keep fighting on in the knowledge that rather than save the lives of their wounded soldiers, Australia instead prefers to bury helicopters that they no longer want.

And finally: contrary to repeated claims from the Prime Minister down, Australia is not the largest non-NATO contributor to Ukraine.  We have fallen behind both Japan and South Korea and are now 16th on the list.

As a proportion of GDP, the Australian contribution is even further behind, coming in after military and economic juggernauts such as Malta, Ireland and Iceland.


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Kym Bergmann
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. This sorry tail of events surrounding the Australian NH90 (Tipan) highlights the contempt the federal government have for the Australian public, the fact that the present government can so casually destroy a Defence asset worth $900 Million is pathetic, bear in mind the current issues surrounding the retention of critical skill sets within the Defence force, the sale of the Tipans for a measly $100 Million would solve the immediate issue. Defence cannot retain the required skill sets it requires without paying the market rates $$$$$. A good amount of competent Management and accountability will help.

      • It doesn’t have better night vision equipment Kym. AAvn pers have been calling for an optics replacement for more than a decade.

        Sorry mate but you’ve lost the plot on this one.

    • Imagine selling the Taipans to another country for 100M$ and seeing them do better, which seems obviously not very difficult if you follow manufacturer recommendations.

      Better bury the evidences of the lack of skills.

      • This was my conclusion exactly! The Ukrainians almost always do amazing things with the weapons systems they are given. It would be Richard Marles’ worst nightmare to see the Taipans that he rejected performing miracles on the frontline in Ukraine.
        Marles’ decision to scrap the Taipans was, in my view, a politically corrupt decision. He should be sacked!

      • That makes a lot of sense… Also, getting rid of them quickly means that they’re gone before they are potentially cleared of any fault from the current accident investigations.

  2. The more I read about this debacle the more it becomes obvious to me that Ministers are completely out of their depth and need to be moved on. Time and Time again they have shown that they have idea what is required and spend far to much time forming committees and having reviews (that they ignore) instead of their jobs.Pandering to the whims of certain sections of the ADF is a recipe for disaster.While it is obviously important that the end user of Equipment procured has input into what is delivered, it seems
    that a culture of “if it isn’t Made in the U.S.A. We don’t want it” even if what is supplied is better. An obvious case of the Tail wagging the Dog.

    • Agreed. The last time I heard a Federal Defence Minister speak really authoritatively about defence equipment it was Kym Beasley. Our last 10 Defence Ministers have included 6 former lawyers, a policeman, a teacher, a union official and an Army reserve officer. None had any background in engineering. Beasley had lectured in strategic studies prior to politics.

  3. My concern is not just Minsters but Defence officials who seem impervious to any consequence from these atrocious decisions. I find myself wondering if someone is actively trying to destroy our defence capabilities.

  4. This is just a crazy misguided act, being carried out by Politicians who are only feathering their own nest, as they try and climb into bed with U.S. officials. It looks and sound like they are destroying the evidence on how poorly these assets were managed, and now concocting a story line of how no country in the world wants to buy them, or the major components. Anyone in the aviation world knows this is BS. The Gov’t just doesn’t want the public or the rest of the world to know how they have cocked up the whole ownership, and management of the Tipan, and then subsequently went of a buying spree to keep the U.S. Government on side. Myles and his crew need to have a good look at what they are doing, and some one needs to stop the destruction, and use the assets as they are intended.

  5. Your MoD should visit us, Ukraine as your PM. MB he will change his mind.
    Politics is a dirty thing. MB this is the matter of corruption?

  6. Marles , Conroy & DOD know they can go on the record & deliberately deceive the nation with this grotesque corruption of the disposal process with zero protest from an opposition up to its neck in corruption of the replacement process.
    NB Wikileaks is totally unfit for any reference to ADF aircraft, according to its latest update, 72 F-35s are in service with the RAAF depite its own source of reference ‘World Air Forces 2024’, stating 60 are active (correct) with a further 37 ordered (false).
    While Dutton’s mob and media commentators lose their minds over this government’s penny pinching cutback on Redback Infantry Fighting Vehicles, Lockheed Martin’s failure to deliver a single F-35 of the final twelve it promised would arrive before the end of 2023.
    Chronic retardation of Australia’s only credible line of defence, doesn’t rate a mention from anyone, anywhere, all must kneel & remain silent about Australia’s lord & master of munitions apparently.

    • The RAAF has 63 F-35As in country, only nine left to deliver. Those nine have been manufactured, and are in storage pending verification of the TR3 hardware.
      While Lockheed Martin has lagged in its development, a large proportion of blame should be directed towards the JPO and the USAF/USN test force community not having sufficient test resources.

  7. The way Australia currenlty manage its military programs are a total joke to foreigners. While it can be understood that the recent changes (helos, submarines) are to get under US umbrella against China, the reasons given for the changes are total BS (not to write lies) that only Aussie politicians “believe”.

  8. Why cant they just park them somewhere on a base, lets say Tindel and leave them there in reserve, if war starts will 40 black hawks be enough for land as big as Australia?

    Same with Abrams tanks, we are paying sending perfectly good tanks back to US because we bought 75 new tanks, why? At the same time US is forward deploying much older Abrams tanks in Northern Australia

    • 1(a) – who’s going to fly the Taipans if all 40 Black Hawks are engaged. We don’t have 40-more aircrew just sitting around in reserve.
      1(b) – you don’t just park an aircraft in the desert (in a tropical climate) and then expect to be able to fly it within days. It takes weeks at best, months in reality to regenerate an airframe from storage, assuming you have a suitably qualified workforce in place to do the work.

      2 – The M1A1s are being upgraded to the A2SEP(v) standard. They may or may not use our hulls – which were remanufactured former US Army hulls anyway.

  9. So Kym, it is a true waste, include the people who fought to support the program, most made redundant.. But when will the government be taken to account ? The mainstream media seem disinterested in telling the truth, even if it shows the waste of both this capability and the huge $$ that go along with the destruction of the helicopters, meanwhile both sides of politics are intent to throw enormous amounts of money into the US economy…
    Maybe a push to independent senators should be started .. but I fear this will be brushed under the carpet.

    • The situation is completely appalling. I note Minister Conroy keeps talking about value for Australian taxpayers. It would probably be cheaper to ship all of the Taipans to Ukraine than it is to dismember them here, try and sell off some bits and pieces and bury the rest. Also if he were so concerned with value for money for Australian taxpayers, why is he happily transferring $4.4 billion to the US shipbuilding industry as part of AUKUS?

      There might be a Senate inquiry into this mess, but that doesn’t help Ukraine.

      • Kym, for many years having supported this platform, it pains me to see the wasted opportunity, yes decision is made to replace, I can live with that. However, is this now a face saving exercise, the government needs to be brave and allow this ‘not for Aussie soldiers’ be transferred into another willing operational sphere, let’s help the Ukrainians as we can. Also the minister is ill informed. Again is this face saving ??

        This is where the mainstream media need to get on board .. SOS

    • The mainstream media doesn’t know any better because they did away with all of their defence specialists, and it doesn’t have sufficient bandwidth or the attention-span to listen to the trade media.

      The Govt will no doubt trot out a few “experts” at some point who will basically parrot the Govt’s talking points, no one will know any better, and it’ll all just go away.

      • It might fizzle, but it’s getting a decent amount of coverage – and the issue won’t go away. I have some new information that I’ll aim to get out on Monday.

  10. Thanks a lot Kym for this feedback. I’ve worked for years on all version of NH90 and was in charge of the vérification of all system contributing actively to the permit to fly. I’ve worked also on the Taipan version in Brisbane and trained a lot of ausie guys for 2 years. I flew on it. One of my son is in the French army and is flying regularly on the french TTH version. Do you think that if I have a doubt on the safety of the NH90 I would say to my son to continue flying? No way! So again thanks a lot for helping us to get back the réputation of the nh90.

    • Herve I am an Adelaide engineer and know several people who worked on the cancelled Attack Class program with Naval group. I see similar issues. Several blatant lies were told then about why Australia had to go with US or UK SSNs, not French.

      One was that it was not possible to refuel the French SSNs, limiting Australian sovereignty. Yet a suitable refueling facility could have been built at ASC for a fraction of the cost of AUKUS. Whereas the claim that the UK and US SSNs would not need specialist support from UK or USA for the life of their HEU reactors was fiction. Many specialist components would need to be replaced every ten years.

      So they justified Australia switching from a design that was viable to build in ASC (Barracuda SNA) to the most expensive, complex and risky design (SSN AUKUS) that could have been chosen. Meanwhile there is no sub construction work in ASC for ten years, and the few remaining experienced sub builders will have retired before it starts, their knowledge lost.

      If a year from now Trump is US President AUKUS will look very foolish indeed.

      • Thanks Scott – I agree with everything you have written. The idea of refueling the French LEU reactor was never studied – the RAN was simply in such a mad rush to hurl themselves at the feet of the Brits and especially the Americans that no serious work was ever done. Also agree about Trump.

  11. Army just does not want to confront the real issue – that they have, and have had for years, a culture which condones unsafe flying by their pilots. When you look at every fatal rotary wing accident in Army over the last 30 years, they have ALL been due to pilot error (Blackhawk near Amberley, Blackhawk near Oakey, High Range mid air, Chinook fatality in Afghanistan, Kanimbla flight deck crash and ditching, Whitsunday crash).

    If the ditching in Jervis BAy had been any other helicopter other than a Taipan, there would have been fatalities there also. It is only because of the inherent safety of the Taipan that there were no serious injuries.

    Declaring the Taipan aircraft unsafe and then destroying them with undue haste is simply a tactic by Army and this government to try and bolster a false narrative.

    Unless something fundamentally changes in Army Aviation, we will just see more fatal accidents in the new fleet of aircraft ordered (Blackhawks and Apaches).

  12. Helicopters generally don’t just fail. Helicopters are hard, and the vast majority of crashes worldwide are due to maintenance or aircrew errors.

    I’m not suggesting the NH/MRH is the greatest helo ever designed, but those I know who have flown it like it a lot. It was also designed and built to a specification, some of which was later changed.

    I’m afraid it looks like it is now too late, but Army and Defence (and Airbus) have much to answer for in this debacle, as do the politicians (on both sides) who listened and just nodded without further scrutiny.

  13. I was left speechless when the Government announced the decision to bury the Taipan, however this is a continual degrading of the ADF. Whilst these machines have been deemed not airworthy, there is no reason for them not to be donated to Ukraine.
    This Government is so shit scared of China they are doing everything in their power to negate the advancement of weapon systems, and personnel for the forces.
    Should private Defence journo’s get on more with this.

  14. Marles is now piling lie upon lie in a desperate attempt to hide the utter stupidity of this decision.
    Time he found alternative employment

  15. “So, it would be irresponsible for us to move away from the disposal strategy that we’ve locked on in.”??????
    Wouldn’t the responsible action be to wait for the outcome of those enquiries before making any decision?
    Conroy has never been the most articulate person so maybe he meant something else but if he didn’t then it’s just further exposes this stupid decision for the gross mistake it is

  16. The problem is not the Child, it is the Parents! In this case Amateur Army Aviation. The hate for the “it’s not a Blackhawk” MRH, was immense from the start. The rusted on nepotist’s were going to lose their perceived “expertise” & white anted the platform from Day 1. The culture of the organisation is the biggest threat to flight safety, by far. An organisation that ignores violations, promotes incompetence, refuses to learn and abrogates any responsibility, is an organisation that should be investigated under due process, by an independent and external body.

    I truly hope that I am very wrong, but don’t be surprised when the same “accidents” happen again (like they have before), in a shiny new UH60M.

    The support and flight crews need new leadership and culture, not new airframes.

  17. It appears leaders in Australia secretly support Russia. Why else would they go to the expense of burying 45 decommissioned MRH-90 helicopters that could be used to save lives in Ukraine?

    The costs of maintenance and support are irrelevant because Ukraine has agreed to assume all responsibility and liability.

    When China attacks Australia won’t Australians expect the USA, and other democracies around the world, to come to their aid? Hypocritically, Australia neither supports Ukraine nor Israel.

    Australia used to send their valiant soldiers to fight tyranny. Now, Australia won’t even send their rubbish.

      • No problem with reliability with those NH-90s and tigers that I can see from that article. Just funding new machines to broaden capability perhaps?

  18. Can I ask a question?
    How much recent work up flying time relevant to the exercises to be carried out had these ADF flight crews been getting prior to the Talisman Sabre 2023 accident?
    And I believe that the Jervis Bay ditching was the result of the mishandling of an engine issue?
    Is that correct, or simply rumour?

    • Regarding the first question: this is being examined by the inquiry into the fatal crash and concerns have been expressed about the inadequacy of training. Regarding the Nowra ditching, this was a case of correct procedure not being followed by one of the pilots after an engine failure at low level. Defence appears in no rush to release the Nowra findings, for reasons that are self-evident.

  19. Thanks for the reply. I was interested, as I have had experience investigating a number of aviation accidents, as a law enforcement officer preparing briefs for State Coroners. One actually was an accident involving an ex-military aircraft being operated in civilian hands.
    I’m not a helicopter pilot, but hold civil Commercial fixed wing and various ratings which was of help during my investigations. I had cause to deal with a number of Federal government bodies, who shall I say were less than forthcoming when pressed on issues relevant to my inquiries. But we did eventually break through their walls of silence, though persistence.


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