The Australian Army has welcomed the arrival of the first three of 40 UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters that will replace its troubled MRH-90 Taipan fleet. The new helicopters, manufactured by Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin company, were delivered by US Air Force C-17 transport aircraft to RAAF Base Richmond in late July and early August 2023.
The UH-60M Black Hawk is a medium-lift utility helicopter that can perform a variety of missions, such as troop transport, medical evacuation, search and rescue, and special operations. The helicopter has a four-bladed main rotor, a twin-engine configuration, and a digital cockpit with integrated avionics. The UH-60M can carry up to 11 fully equipped soldiers or four stretchers and has a maximum speed of 296 km/h and a range of 592 km.
The Australian Army ordered 40 UH-60Ms in January 2023 under a Foreign Military Sales (FMS) deal with the US government worth AUD2.79 billion (USD1.82 billion). The acquisition was part of the government’s plan to retire the MRH-90 Taipan fleet by 2026, a decade earlier than scheduled, due to persistent technical and operational issues that have plagued the helicopter since its introduction in 2007.
The MRH-90 Taipan is a multi-role helicopter developed by NHIndustries, a consortium of Airbus Helicopters, Leonardo Helicopters, and Fokker Aerostructures. The Australian Army and Navy operate 47 MRH-90s for troop transport, maritime support, and special operations. However, the helicopter has faced numerous problems, such as engine failures, narrow doors, faulty cargo hooks, and software glitches, that have limited its availability and performance.
The delivery of the first three UH-60Ms will allow the Australian Army to start training and familiarisation operations with the new aircraft at Holsworthy Barracks, where the 6th Aviation Regiment is based. The regiment supports the 2nd Commando Regiment, an elite special forces unit that conducts counter-terrorism and other high-risk missions. The UH-60Ms are expected to enhance the commandos’ mobility and capability in complex and contested environments.
The rest of the UH-60Ms will be delivered over the next three years, according to Defence Minister Richard Marles. He said he did not want to raise expectations about having the Black Hawks in service sooner, as the transition process would take time and resources. He also said that the government was committed to ensuring the safety and welfare of the personnel who operate and maintain the MRH-90s until they are phased out.
The Australian Army’s decision to acquire the UH-60Ms was welcomed by defence analysts and industry experts, who praised the helicopter’s proven track record and interoperability with allies. The UH-60M is widely used by the US Army and other countries, such as Colombia, Saudi Arabia, Sweden, Taiwan, Thailand, Tunisia, and UAE. The Australian Army previously operated the Black Hawk from 1989 to 2019 before transferring them to the Australian Helicopter Industry Association for civilian use.