Australia To Ditch Taipan Helicopters For Black Hawks and Seahawks

The Australian Defence Force will replace its entire fleet of 47 MRH-90 Taipan multirole helicopters a decade ahead of schedule, replacing the troubled helicopters with new American-made Black Hawk and Seahawk helicopters.

Defence Minister Peter Dutton announced on Friday morning that the Australian Army would be following the Royal Australian Navy’s decision to replace the Taipans with the American helicopters, saying that Taipan had been a “project of concern” for the last decade, with nine instances where the fleet had been unsuitable for operations.

“I’m just not going to put our people in that position — we want the best equipment for them, and the Black Hawk clearly is going to provide that outcome.

Getting up to 40 of them will, I think, send a very clear message to our partners and to our adversaries that the Australian Defence Force is serious about defending Australia and making sure that we can make a significant contribution when we’re called on.”

A Royal Australian Navy MRH-90 Taipan multirole helicopter from 808 Squadron, prepares to launch from HMAS Albatross in support of Operation NSW Flood Assist. (Australian Defence)

The Australian Army currently has 41 Taipans in service, with the locally manufactured derivatives of Airbus’ NH90 first entering service in 2007. In the years since, however, the helicopters have suffered from poor reliability and experienced fleet-wide groundings, in an experience similar to that of the Tiger armed reconnaissance helicopter, also made by Airbus and to be replaced by American-made AH-64E Apache Guardian attack helicopters.

During a visit to Sydney’s Victoria Barracks, Dutton said that Defence had been working constantly with the company involved to resolve the Taipan’s issues, and that he had personally spoken to the CEO about his concerns. Despite those efforts, the decision was ultimately made to terminate the Taipan program in favor of Black Hawks, as the issues were deemed “unresolvable”.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s sources tell the public broadcaster that Canberra is now approaching Washington for the purchase of up to 40 Black Hawks, as well as 12 Seahawks for the Navy. The United States’ State Department had previously approved a sale of 12 MH-60R Romeo Seahawk helicopters in October to Australia, with the AUD$1.3 billion package to replace the Navy’s six Taipans.

HMAS Canberra’s embarked MH-60R helicopter, ‘Athena’, launches decoy flares in a capability demonstration, as the ship sails through the Timor Sea. (Australian Defence)

The decision to retire the European-designed helicopters comes three months after Canberra’s shock decision to cancel the AUD$90 billion Attack-class submarine program in favor of nuclear-powered attack submarines to be jointly developed with the UK and US under the AUKUS agreement. While Deputy Labor leader Richard Marles praised the Black Hawks as a fantastic platform on the Nine Network, he noted that the decisions to scrap the Tigers, Attack-class submarines and now the Taipan showed that Australian defense procurement was “a mess”.