MRH90 ‘Taipan’… Not ‘out of the woods’ yet

Over the past few years the Australian Defence Force’s MRH90 ‘Taipan’ Multi-Role Helicopter has achieved some significant milestones and, since being re-baselined in May 2013, the programme has achieved a step-change in the Rate of Effort achieved by Army and Navy.

All currently known technical deficiencies with the helicopter have either been resolved or have a clearly defined roadmap towards resolution and in Operation Fiji Assist, the recent relief efforts following Cyclone Winston, seven MRH90s flew almost 500 hours and achieved an availability rate of 70 per cent during the two-month deployment.

However, the project is not yet ‘out of the woods’ and it remains on the government’s Projects of Concern list. Recent figures suggest that the Rate of Effort improvement has not continued on the upward trajectory originally forecast. Coupled with a lower than required current availability across the fleet (50 per cent), this performance metric is unacceptable to the Commonwealth.

Fiji Assist and Recent Tasks

Four Army Taipans were airlifted to Fiji aboard RAAF C-17A transports at the end of February and three Navy examples sailed aboard HMAS Canberra, one of Navy’s two Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD) ships.

Over several weeks of operations, the seven aircraft flew more than 500 hours and carried over 200 tonnes of supplies and 1800 people. In addition, two essentially similar NH90 Tactical Transport Helicopters from the Royal New Zealand Air Force were also deployed.

‘The MRH90 (and NH90) was the only military helicopter in the area of operations,” detailed Charles ‘Jock’ Crocombe, Head of Governmental Helicopters for Airbus Group Australia Pacific at the recent Land Forces exposition in Adelaide. “It was a great success and a good activity for the helicopter to be involved in.”

Last year the Taipan went through an intensive period of flight trials aboard HMAS Canberra as part of the certification of an Amphibious Ready Element (ARE), with the rotary wing component largely based around the MRH90s of the Army’s A Squadron, 5th Aviation Regiment.

This has resulted in a limited certification for operations at the permissive end of the battlefield threat spectrum and, following successful remediation of the MRH90s Electronic Warfare system, work will continue through the less permissive scenarios between now and the end of 2017.

Airbus Group Australia Pacific delivered the 38th production MRH90 to the Commonwealth in early September and the programme remains on the re-baselined schedule to deliver the 47th and final helicopter in the middle of next year.

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