The Australian Defence Force (ADF) has grounded its entire fleet of MRH-90 Taipan helicopters after one of them crashed into the sea near Jervis Bay on Wednesday night. The incident occurred during a counter-terrorism training exercise involving army, navy and special forces personnel. The pilot managed to ditch the aircraft upright in the water, and all 10 crew members were rescued with minor injuries.
The MRH-90 Taipan is a multi-role helicopter designed by Airbus and manufactured in Australia. It was introduced in 2007 to replace the ageing Black Hawk and Sea King helicopters, but it has been plagued by technical problems and high operating costs. The ADF has 47 Taipans in service, but they have been repeatedly grounded for safety reasons. The aircraft is also listed as a “project of concern” by the Australian National Audit Office, which means it is under close scrutiny for poor performance and cost overruns.
The Defence Flight Safety Bureau is investigating the cause of the crash, which eyewitnesses said involved sparks and an explosion at the top of the rotor blades. A damaged blade was visible on the beach where the helicopter was stranded before being lifted onto a naval vessel for examination. Defence officials have not commented on the possible causes of the malfunction, but some insiders have claimed that Australia has failed to properly maintain and manage the complex MRH-90 fleet.
The crash has renewed the debate on whether Australia should replace the Taipans with a more reliable and cheaper alternative. Last year, the Morrison government announced that it would retire the Taipans by 2030 and acquire up to 40 new UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters from the US, as well as 12 Seahawks for maritime roles. The Albanese government confirmed this plan in January, saying that it would enhance Australia’s defence capabilities and create jobs in the local defence industry.
The UH-60 Black Hawk is a proven and versatile helicopter that has been used by many countries for military and civilian purposes. It has a lower operating cost than the Taipan, estimated at $20,000 per flying hour compared to $48,000. It also has a higher availability rate, meaning it can fly more missions with less downtime. The Black Hawk is expected to arrive in Australia by 2025, and will be used for troop transport, medical evacuation, search and rescue, and special operations.
The MRH-90 Taipan is a medium-sized, twin-engine, multi-role helicopter that was developed by NHIndustries, a consortium of Airbus Helicopters, Leonardo and Fokker Aerostructures. The MRH-90 Taipan is based on the NH90, a helicopter that was designed to meet the requirements of NATO for a battlefield transport and anti-ship/anti-submarine helicopter.
The MRH-90 Taipan is operated by both the Australian Army and the Royal Australian Navy, as part of the AIR 9000 programme that aims to replace the ageing fleets of Black Hawk and Sea King helicopters. The MRH-90 Taipan can perform a variety of missions, such as troop transport, counter-terrorism, search-and-rescue, medical evacuation and special operations. It can carry up to 20 troops or 12 stretchers, and has a maximum take-off weight of 10.6 tonnes.
The MRH-90 Taipan features a fly-by-wire flight control system, which reduces the pilot’s workload and enhances the manoeuvrability and safety of the helicopter. It also has a glass cockpit with multifunction displays, a digital map system, a helmet-mounted sight and display system, and a four-axis autopilot. The MRH-90 Taipan is equipped with a range of sensors and weapons, such as a forward-looking infrared camera, a radar warning receiver, a laser warning receiver, chaff and flare dispensers, machine guns, rockets and torpedoes.
The MRH-90 Taipan has been in service with the Australian Defence Force since 2007, and has logged more than 50,000 flight hours. The MRH-90 Taipan has proven its reliability and versatility in various operations and exercises, both domestically and internationally. However, the MRH-90 Taipan has also faced some technical issues and delays, which have affected its availability and performance. In 2022, the Australian government announced its intention to retire the MRH-90 Taipan 10 years ahead of schedule and replace it with up to 40 Black Hawk helicopters from the US.
The MRH-90 Taipan is an advanced and modern helicopter that provides the Australian Defence Force with a high-performance multi-role capability. The MRH-90 Taipan is expected to continue to serve the Australian Defence Force until its replacement is delivered.