(AFP) – Australia announced Wednesday (18) that it will phase out its fleet of French-made Taipan helicopters, despite last-minute attempts by Paris to rescue the contract.
Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles said the Taipan helicopters will be replaced by U.S.-made Black Hawk aircraft.
Trust between France and Australia was shaken in 2021 when the former conservative government in Canberra cancelled a deal to buy French submarines for 90 billion Australian dollars ($62 billion). At the height of the dispute, French President Emmanuel Macron accused then-Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison of lying about the deal, and Paris summoned its ambassador to Canberra for consultation.
Marles said he was confident that the removal of the French helicopters would not affect the relationship with Paris again. “The most important thing here is dealing honestly with the French,” Marles told the national ABC television network.
“We are confident that this will not interrupt the renewed relationship with France,” he added.
The French government has interests in Airbus, the aerospace company that manufactures the Taipan, and has asked Australia to maintain its fleet of 40 helicopters. But Marles said the aircraft have undergone very expensive repairs.
“We have struggled with the Taipan for many years in terms of maintenance and getting parts,” Marles explained. In a statement, Airbus said it “acknowledges” the decision and that Australia remains an important market for the company.
“We are committed to developing our significant presence in the country, together with our customers, partners and government stakeholders,” an Airbus spokesperson said. Relations between Canberra and Paris were strained until May last year, when Australia elected center-left Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who sought to restore ties with France.
Purchase of 40 UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters to replace its Taipans
The Australian government is buying 40 UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters for the Australian Army, with deliveries starting this year.
The government’s announcement of the purchase follows the US State Department’s approval for a $1.95 billion sale of the helicopters to Australia in August 2022.
Land Capability Leader Major General Jeremy King said this was an important acquisition that will meet the strategic needs of the Australian Army.
“The Black Hawk capability will be a crucial element in helping us protect Australia’s sovereignty and meet foreign policy objectives, including providing humanitarian assistance and disaster relief,” Major General King said.
“The Black Hawk will support the deployment of our troops and their equipment where they are needed in times of crisis. The Black Hawk is a reliable, proven, mature platform supported by a robust global supply chain.
The Black Hawks will replace the Airbus-built Taipan fleet, which is being decommissioned a decade ahead of schedule. The Taipan helicopters, 41 of which were in service at the time the decision was made, did not meet contracted availability requirements or the expected cost of ownership, the government said in December 2021.
Australia has already been forced to lease two Leonardo AW139 helicopters from a private operator to augment the low availability of the MRH90 Taipan fleet.
The new Black Hawk will operate in Oakey, QLD and Holsworthy, NSW, according to a Ministry of Defense announcement.
Australian industry will be involved in logistics support, warehousing services, training development and engineering services, as well as the aircraft’s global supply chain.
The UH-60 Black Hawk that Australia is now looking to buy is the most widely used utility helicopter variant in the world. The UH-60M is the latest version in the field and has been in service with the US Army and other nations for over a decade. The U.S. Army is currently receiving the UH-60V variant, which will feature an updated digital cockpit in glass concept, certified RNAV GPS database, and advanced flight planning and mission capability.
It is worth noting that the Australian Army already operated the S-70A-9 variant of the Black Hawk helicopter, the last of which was retired in a ceremony in December 2021. Prior to that, the government announced the sale of the fleet, but a final decision on the fate of the helicopters has yet to be announced.
*** Translated by the DEFCONPress FYI Team ***