The Australian Department of Defence (DoD) announced on 29 September that it was retiring its MRH-30 Taipan helicopter fleet ahead of schedule. The decision follows a crash in July which killed four crew members.
The fleet of over 40 MRH-90 Taipan helicopters of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) will not resume flying operations before their scheduled retirement in December 2024.
The DoD stated that it is focused on introducing the new fleet of UH-60M Black Hawks, with the first three already in Australia and flying since September.
Defence Minister Richard Marles acknowledged the MRH-90’s importance to the ADF, but stated that the CH-47F Chinooks, Tigers and MH-60R Seahawks would continue to provide aviation capabilities.
“I recognise the hard work of the hundreds of people who dedicated themselves to acquiring, operating and sustaining the aircraft,” he said. “The first of the 40 Black Hawks that will replace the MRH-90 have arrived and are already flying in Australia. We are focused on seeing their introduction to service as quickly as possible.”
“The Government’s highest priority is the safety and wellbeing of our people.”
“We continue to support the families of the four soldiers who lost their lives earlier this year, and the broader Defence community.”
The DoD is exploring options to expedite the delivery of Black Hawks and aircrew training to mitigate any further impact on Army operations and training.
Mr Marles clarified that the announcement does not indicate the outcome of investigations into the 28 July fatal incident, where an MRH-90 Taipan crashed during Exercise Talisman Sabre, killing all four aircrew. The DoD had previously stated that they would not fly the platform until investigations were complete.
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.
It entered service with the ADF 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.