Australia will spend $700 million upgrading RAAF Base Townsville after it was announced it would become the new home of Australia’s upcoming fleet of 29 AH-64E Apaches.
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The investment will include renovations and the construction of new facilities to accommodate the helicopter and crew, which will arrive from 2025.
The former Coalition federal government rubber-stamped the Apache purchase just before last year’s election to replace the beleaguered Tigers.
On Saturday, Defence revealed Army’s 1st Aviation Regiment would relocate to Townsville incrementally as it continues to operate the ARH Tiger from Darwin until its withdrawal in 2028.
Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles said the Apache is the “most advanced helicopter operating today”.
“Our significant investment in renovated and new facilities at RAAF Townsville will ensure the ADF members and civilians working with Apache have the infrastructure they need to support these important capabilities,” he said.
The move means that Boeing Australia will provide maintenance support to the Apache and Chinook helicopters.
In Sydney, Nowra, and Southeast Queensland, Lockheed Martin Australia and Sikorsky Australia will provide maintenance support to the UH-60M Black Hawk and MH-60R Sea Hawk helicopters.
The AH-64E Apache is one of the world’s most advanced multi-role combat helicopters and represents the backbone of the US Army attack helicopter fleet, as well as a growing number of international defence forces.
According to Boeing, there are nearly 1,300 Apaches in operation globally that have accumulated more than 5 million flight hours, 1.3 million of which have been in combat.
The AH-64E variant will be in production until at least 2028 and is set to be the US’s primary attack helicopter into the 2060s. Boeing delivered the first-generation Apache to the US in January 1984 but it made its first flight in 1975.
The move to Townsville, meanwhile, is part of one of the biggest shake-ups in Australia’s helicopter fleet in a generation.
Last January, the former Coalition federal government confirmed it would purchase 40 UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters before the new Labor government added a further 12 MH-60R Seahawk/Romeos, taking its future fleet of the type to 36.
Defence also ordered four additional Chinooks for approximately $595 million, with the first two arriving in July 2021.
The reshuffle of capability came after a damning National Audit Office report in 2016, which found 76 “capability deficiencies” with the existing Tiger fleet, including 60 that were deemed to be critical. It was subsequently revealed that only a fraction of the aircraft could be flown on any given day in 2015.