The US State Department’s Defense Cooperation Security Agency on 26 August 2022 gave the final government approval of Australia’s request to purchase 40 Sikorsky UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters.
They were originally selected by Australia’s Department of Defence last year to replace the force’s 47 MRH90 Taipan utility helicopters (a variant of the NH Industries NH-90 and supplied by Airbus’ Australian subsidiary).
The Taipans have experienced reliability issues and have proven expensive to operate. This included fleet grounds in 2019 and in 2021.
An official defence cost projects report estimated its operating cost at $35,000 up to $50,000 per hour (as reported by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute). Accordingly the decision was made to retire the fleet well before their scheduled 2037 out-of-service date.
The Royal Australian Navy (RAN) had previously received approval in 2021 to replace its Taipans with 12 Sikorsky MH-60R Sea Hawk helicopters.
The Black Hawks will be built in the United States, a choice driven by the urgent need to maintain the vertical lift capabilities of the Army including the Special Forces. The purchase is valued at $1.95 billion.
The order includes 88 General Electric T700 GE 701 engines (eight spares) plus 44 AN/AAR-57 counter missile warning systems by BAE Systems and various navigation and communications systems, training and support. The prime contractor is Lockheed Martin (Sikorsky).
The Australian Army originally flew the earlier S-70A Black Hawk version receiving its first aircraft in 1991 but was due to be fully phased out by mid-2020. Some were retained a further 18 months for special operations for which Taipan proved inadequate. These S-70s will also be replaced. Key factors in the UH-60M selection was its proven track-record and the common support available with US forces.
by Stephen W. Miller