What do you do if you have dozens of combat helicopters you don’t want? If you’re the Australian government, you dismantle them and turn them into landfill. That’s the imminent fate of 45 Australian Army and Royal Australian Navy MRH-90 Taipan helicopters, grounded since a crash in Queensland last summer and withdrawn from service.
Australia has had something of a troubled history with its European-UK designed MEH-90s, the Taipan being an adaptation of the NH-90 type currently in service with a number of Nato countries. Severe procurement and operating cost blowouts, mechanical failures, high maintenance costs, difficulty in obtaining spare parts, and several whole-fleet groundings have plagued the aircraft. Australian military authorities were also disappointed with the helicopter’s operational fitness for purpose, particularly their capacity for carrying sufficient fully-laden combat troops, was another black mark against the Taipan.
The final straw came last July when one crashed into the sea off the Great Barrier Reef while on exercise, killing all on board. Even though the formal inquiry into the crash has not yet reported, last month the current Australian government announced its predecessor’s planned replacement of Australia’s Taipans with American Blackhawk and Apache helicopters is being accelerated. The troubled helicopters ‘will not return to flying operations’ before their scheduled withdrawal date of December this year, it said.
NH Industries (NHI), which manufactured the helicopters, insists that its NH90 transport helicopter remains safe to fly. ‘NH Industries has already informed operators that it has not identified any information from the initial flight-data analysis that relates to a failure, malfunction or defect linked to the aircraft design,’ the manufacturer says.
But Australia has made up its mind. Having sounded out other operators of the type and finding no takers, Anthony Albanese’s Labor government confirmed that the aircraft will be dismantled, and those parts which could not be sold on would be buried in a secret location.
But actually there was one taker for the decommissioned Taipans, willing to take them as they are and despite Australia’s safety and operational concerns: Ukraine.