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No one say Taipan: Germany confirms military helicopters for Ukraine

The Sea King Mk41. The boat shape of its lower hull can be clearly seen under its nose. Here the crew also has a navy diver on board as a lifeguard. Photo: Bundeswehr/Björn Wilke

Germany has announced commencement of its first-ever shipment of military helicopters to Ukraine, in an ill-fated nod to the speedy burial of Australia’s own MRH-90 Taipan helicopter fleet.

Germany has announced commencement of its first-ever shipment of military helicopters to Ukraine, in an ill-fated nod to the speedy burial of Australia’s own MRH-90 Taipan helicopter fleet.

The German Defence Ministry has announced it will supply the Ukrainian Armed Forces with six Sea King Mk41 multipurpose helicopters, equipment and spare parts, as well as training Ukrainian military personnel in the operation and maintenance of the aircraft.

Germany’s 21 Sea King Mk41 helicopters have a reported range of more than 1,500 kilometres, 3,400 horsepower performance and nine-tonne maximum take-off weight. The country has used the aircraft as multipurpose transport helicopter for search and rescue in naval aviation since the mid-1970s.

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The aircraft comes equipped with two Seaspray 3000 all-round radar, one thermal imaging camera type FLIR, one 12.7mm heavy machine gun, and a AN/ALE-37/A decoy launcher. It is also able to accommodate a crew of three to four and 20 passengers.

“A proven and reliable helicopter that will assist Ukrainians in many areas, from reconnaissance over the Black Sea to transporting soldiers,” German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius said to local media.

“This is Germany’s first delivery of its kind.

“The helicopter has an extensive range, over 1,500 kilometres, is equipped with radar and an infrared camera, and is known for its durability, capable of flying even in the most severe weather conditions.”

The moves comes in stark contrast with the Australian government’s announcement that it’s retired MRH-90 Taipan helicopter fleet will not be sent to Ukraine, despite a request received by Defence in December.

In September last year, the Australian government announced that the ADF MRH-90 Taipan helicopter fleet was grounded and would not return to flying operations before their planned withdrawal date in December, following a series of aircraft accidents.

An MRH-90 helicopter crashed south of Hamilton Island while participating in Exercise Talisman Sabre in July 2023, while another aircraft ditched into NSW waters during a routine counterterrorism training exercise in March 2023.

It’s understood disassembly of the aircraft commenced in October last year.

“That request (from Ukraine) came in just before Christmas, and our response is going through the normal process of being developed by the Department of Defence,” Australian Minister for Defence Industry Pat Conroy said during an ABC Radio interview on 18 January.

“That request came in three months after the disposal strategy began, three months after these aircraft were grounded, three months after maintenance ceased on these aircraft.

“The aircraft aren’t in flying condition and we have not established whether they’re safe to fly. But a response will be provided through the normal channels to the Ukrainian government.

“To get them into a condition to provide to the Ukrainian government would require considerable taxpayers’ expense and time and resources. And that was not a good use of taxpayers’ money.

“I really just find it quite incredible that people are suggesting that we should provide aircraft to Ukraine that we still have no idea are safe to fly.”

Although unconfirmed reports persist that the MRH-90 aircraft will be buried, Australia does have an extensive history of shoving its decommissioned aircraft into the ground.

Defence retired its F-111 Aardvark aircraft in 2010, scrapping wing stabilisers and tails while retiring 23 fuselages to Ipswitch landfill due to asbestos found in the machines.

In addition, two Russian-built Mil Mi-24 Hind attack helicopters that were confiscated by the Australian government in the late 1990s were buried in a hazardous waste section of Darwin Shoal Bay Waste Management Facility after languishing at RAAF base Tindal near Katherine from 1997 to 2016.

The Taipan helicopter fleet will be replaced by the accelerated introduction into service of 40 UH‑60M Black Hawk helicopters acquired under the LAND 4507 Phase 1 Multi-Role Helicopter Rapid Replacement Project announced in January 2023.

Those aircraft will be joined by new AH-64E Apache helicopters expected to be introduced into service with the Australian Army in 2025.

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