Australia to Spend $1.3 Billion on 12 US Seahawk Helicopters

The Royal Australian Navy is set to phase out its troubled fleet of European-made MRH-90 Taipan helicopters in favour of U.S.-made Sikorsky Seahawks.

On Oct. 8, the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) approved the sale of 12 Sikorsky MH-60R Multi-Mission Helicopters to replace the navy’s six Airbus-made MRM-90s for around $1.3 billion (US$985 million).

Australia currently operates 24 MH-60Rs based at HMAS Albatross in Nowra, New South Wales. The latest purchase will expand the fleet to 36.

“This proposed sale will support the foreign policy and national security objectives of the United States. Australia is one of our most important allies in the Western Pacific,” the DSCA said in a statement.

“The strategic location of this political and economic power contributes significantly to ensuring peace and economic stability in the region. It is vital to the U.S. national interest to assist our ally in developing and maintaining a strong and ready self-defense capability,” it continued.

The helicopters will enhance the anti-surface and anti-submarine warfare capabilities of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) and can also assist in search and rescue, vertical replenishment, and communications.

The DSCA also said the sale will be a “deterrent to regional threats” and easily absorbed into the ADF’s current operations.

In June, the ADF’s fleet of 47 Taipans—acquired during the era of Prime Minister John Howard in 2006 for A$3.8 billion—had been grounded following safety and maintenance concerns.

Another issue revealed last year during a Senate hearing was that the door was not wide enough to allow for the rappelling of troops and the firing of the helicopter’s side gun at the same time—forcing the fleet into a third round of adjustments.

In July 2020, the Australian prime minister released the new Force Structure Plan that pledged to “Expand and rationalise the support and logistics helicopter fleet consistent with the expectations for larger naval operations.”

Pat Conroy, the shadow assistant defence minister, claimed the government had mismanaged large military acquisitions.

“The Howard Govt’s $3.7 billion decision to acquire the MRH-90 and the current Coalition government’s eight years of mismanagement of it looks like it has now cost taxpayers another $1.3 billion!” he wrote in a post on Twitter on Oct 9. “The party that delivered the billion-dollar Seasprite debacle continues to mismanage Defence.”

The latest purchase is part of the federal government’s ongoing revamp of the ADF amid increasing tensions in the Indo-Pacific region.

In May, the U.S. State Department signed off on a US$2 billion arms deal to sell 160 Abrams tanks and four Chinook helicopters to Australia.

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