defence connect logo



Australia secures approval for Black Hawk acquisition

Australia secures approval for Black Hawk acquisition

A multi-billion-dollar proposal to procure the multi-mission helicopters for the Australian Army has been greenlit by the US State Department.

A multi-billion-dollar proposal to procure the multi-mission helicopters for the Australian Army has been greenlit by the US State Department.

The Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) has announced the approval of a proposed foreign military sale of 40 Sikorsky-built UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters and related equipment to the Australian Army, valued at approximately US$1.95 billion (AU$2.79 billion).

This comes just over eight months after the former Morrison government sent a letter of request to the United States as part of a provisional assessment process designed to inform a prospective purchase.


Following preliminary discussions between industry and former defence minister Peter Dutton, it was reported six Black Hawks could be available from Sikorsky’s 2022 global production line, with the remaining platforms potentially delivered by 2026.  

The UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters are expected to replace the Army’s fleet of 47 Airbus-built MRH-90 Taipan helicopters, currently in service as Army’s utility aircraft.

This came amid ongoing concerns over the Taipan’s performance, with the platform failing to meet contracted availability requirements in light of a series of technical shortcomings.

In June 2021, Defence suspended flying operations of its Taipan fleet as a “safety precaution” after an issue relating to the aircraft’s IT support system was identified. 

This was the latest of several technical incidents associated with the Taipan’s operation.

In 2019, a tail rotor vibration forced the MRH-90 helicopters based at HMAS Albatross to be grounded.

This followed a precautionary landing on HMAS Adelaide from an Army MRH-90 a fortnight earlier, prompting officials to temporarily suspend the entire fleet.

The Australian National Audit Office continues to list the MRH program (AIR 9000 Phase 2, 4 and 6) as a “project of concern”.

The program has also exceeded operational cost expectations ahead of its planned withdrawal from service in 2037.

Initially, an annual sustainment cost of approximately $123 million (2021 AUD out-turned) was anticipated, however this has now more than doubled to approximately $300 million.

Costs are also expected to increase with scheduled upgrade programs for the global fleet to address operational and obsolescence issues.

This would have taken the total cost of operating the fleet until 2037 to $9.5 billion when including a mid-life upgrade.

In announcing the US approval for the Black Hawk order, the DSCA stated the deal would strengthen the Australian Armys combat power, improving Australias defence posture in the Indo-Pacific. 

“This proposed sale will support the foreign policy and national security objectives of the United States. Australia is one of our most important allies in the Western Pacific,” the DSCA noted in a statement.

“The strategic location of this political and economic power contributes significantly to ensuring peace and economic stability in the region.

“It is vital to the US national interest to assist our ally in developing and maintaining a strong and ready self-defence capability.”

Shadow minister for defence Andrew Hastie, a veteran of the Australian Army, welcomed the approval, noting his own experience with Black Hawk helicopters. 

"During my own service in the ADF, I flew in Black Hawk Helicopters and have a first-hand understanding of their superiority for air assault and special operations mission profiles," he said. 

"They will also be vital in the event of disaster relief and humanitarian assistance operations in the region."

The shadow minister called on the Albanese government to finalise the deal. 

"I hope the defence minister and the government will act quickly to finalise this sale and enable our ADF to bring this important capability into service at the earliest possible opportunity," Hastie said. 

[Related: PM unveils Romeo, Apache plan]

You need to be a member to post comments. Become a member for free today!