MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA — Australia’s troubled MRH 90 battlefield helicopter project took a significant step forward May 9 with the announcement of a Deed of Undertaking between the Commonwealth and prime contractor Australian Aerospace and its industry partners.
The deed addresses outstanding commercial and contractual issues and follows earlier agreements that addressed both technical issues with the Eurocopter MRH 90 helicopter and interim commercial and contractual remediation issues.
Australia has a requirement for 46 MRH 90s to fill the battlefield helicopter role for the Army and the Maritime Utility Helicopter role for the Navy. The helicopter is based upon the German Army’s NH90 tactical transport helicopter and is being assembled in Australia by Australian Aerospace, a Eurocopter subsidiary.
But the project is three years late and is not set to achieve initial operating capability with the Royal Australian Navy until midyear and with the Army until the middle of 2014. It is on the government’s Projects of Concern list, which closely tracks the progress of projects that are significantly late, over budget, or both.
The latest Deed of Understanding includes the provision of a 47th helicopter, at no cost to the Commonwealth. The additional helicopter will be a fully airworthy example, which will allow the rotation of one airframe through the ground instructional role with the Army.
In a joint statement, Australian Defense Minister Stephen Smith and Minister for Defense Materiel Mike Kelly said the latest agreement will help put the helicopter program back on a positive footing.
“Overall this is a good outcome for defense and Australian Aerospace. Both parties have worked collaboratively, within the Projects of Concern framework to reach this positive outcome,” the ministers said. “With continued good progress, the MRH 90 program will be considered for removal from the Projects of Concern list by the end of 2013.”
Rear Adm. Tony Dalton, head of Helicopter Systems Division for the Defense Materiel Organisation, also welcomed the latest deed.
“The agreement has resolved all areas of dispute, rebaselined the delivery schedule and given us a lot more confidence in that delivery schedule and support mechanisms,” he said.
Nineteen helicopters have already been delivered to the Commonwealth and the new agreement will oversee future deliveries of between six and seven each year until the last is completed in mid-2017.
“The MRH90 represents the very latest in military helicopter technology, an all-composite aircraft that can carry more troops further and faster than any of its competitors,” said Australian Aerospace CEO Jens Goennemann.
“However, we’re the first to acknowledge that new and complex technologies of the size and scope of the MRH can have issues, and when issues do arise it requires additional effort from all parties to get the program back on track.
“The ministers have stated the MRH program is now back on track, and with the difficult times behind us we can move forward with clear goals, openness and a commitment to deliver.” ■