May 13, 2011 By Robert Wall AviationWeek.com
LONDON — A decision between the NH Industries NH90 and Lockheed Martin MH-60R for Australia’s future multi-role helicopter is imminent, with the source selection team having completed its evaluation.
An Australian military official notes the decision on who will win the so-called Air 9000 Phase 8 Future Naval Aviation Combat System program to replace the Seahawk and canceled Seasprite is ready to go to the cabinet for approval and subsequent announcement.
The Australian navy already is buying MRH90s — with three of six already delivered — that are being procured as part of the purchase of 46 of the transport versions of the NH90 being built by Australian Aerospace. Those six helicopters are to replace Sea Kings.
But the fielding of the MRH90s is not necessarily an advantage for NH Industries. Australia has been struggling with the fielding of the rotorcraft and has currently suspended taking more of the helos beyond the 13 already handed over.
Training of personnel for the new system also has slowed, in part owing to a hiatus in flying operations after an engine problem was discovered. Although a fix was identified, the maintenance regime now in place is laborious, the military official says.
Another concern for Australia is that the cost of continuing to operate aging Black Hawks, which the MRH90 is to replace, are starting to rise.
Progress on fielding the Tiger reconnaissance and attack helicopters is moving ahead more swiftly, although it is not problem-free, either. So far, 19 of 22 helicopters have been handed to the military. Full operational capability is expected in December 2012.
One current challenge is the integration of the Thales TopOwl helmet-mounted sight system. That needs to be resolved to clear Tigers in Australia for night operations. The target is to achieve that by October or no later than the end of the year.
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