New Black Hawks for Australian Army?
The Australian Army’s Holsworthy-based 6 Aviation Regiment (6Avn) will replace its MRH 90 Taipans with new-build Black Hawks, while the LAND 2097 Phase 4 light special operations rotary wing (SORW) requirement may be cancelled, according to multiple sources.
ADBR understands initial enquiries into the pricing and availability of Sikorsky HH-60W or MH-60M Black Hawks – which are configured for combat rescue helicopter (CRH) and special operations support roles respectively – have been made, and that up to 24 machines are being considered to not only replace the MRH 90s, but to fulfil all of 6Avn’s requirements.
It is believed an announcement on the intention to buy Black Hawks could be made as soon as the government’s 2020/21 Budget delivery on October 6, along with a reported sole-source acquisition of 29 Boeing AH-64E Apache attack helicopters to replace the Army’s Tiger ARH.
The reported acquisition is a revival of a shelved proposal to buy MH-60Ms for 6Avn in 2018, instead of using the MRH 90 which has proved to be less-suitable in the special operations support role than the older S-70A-9 Black Hawk it is meant to replace. While the MRH 90 excels in speed, range, capacity, and endurance, there are believed to be ongoing issues with suitable door gun mounts and positions, rappelling rope points, and operational integration with allied forces.
The 12 MRH 90s currently assigned to 6Avn will reportedly be
consolidated with the Townsville-based 5Avn along with Navy’s six MRH 90s after
its operations cease
in 2021. In the interim, 5Avn is reportedly looking to lease up to three Leonardo
AW139s or similar to augment
its own MRH 90s for an initial two-year period to allow it to meet the
planned training throughput and support roles of its A and B SQNs.
The Black Hawk has been developed into multiple special operations support models, the latest being the new USAF HH-60W CRH model. The HH-60W passed its Milestone-C development milestone and was approved for low-rate initial production (LRIP) on September 24. The first LRIP batch of 10 HH-60Ws is expected to be awarded in early 2021.
There are currently four instrument HH-60Ws operating at
Sikorsky’s Palm Beach Florida flight test facility, and at Eglin AFB in Florida.
The USAF plans to acquire 113 HH-60W ’60-Whiskey’ helicopters to replace its
HH-60G Pave Hawks which entered service in the 1980s.
While the HH-60W and MH-60M share the familiar airframe of
the venerable H-60/S-70 Black Hawk which entered service with the US and the
ADF in the 1980s, both feature more powerful engines, advanced new integrated
avionics and sensors, and advanced communications.
The Pave Hawk has been constantly upgraded since entering
service, and many of its sensors, communications, weapons, and electronic warfare
self-protection (EWSP) systems will also be integrated with the HH-60W.
The MH-60M entered service with the US Army in 2008, and many
earlier MH-60A/L models were upgraded to the ‘M’ standard. The MH-60M uses the Rockwell
Collins Common Avionics Architecture System (CAAS) which is shared
with the CH-47F and MH-47G Chinook, greater fuel capacity, an air-to-air
refuelling capability, and more powerful GE T700 engines.
If the intent to acquire the Black Hawks in announced in the federal budget, the government may also take the opportunity to announce the rumoured sole-source acquisition of AH-64E Apaches under the Project LAND 4503 requirement to replace the Tiger ARH.
ADBR COMMENT: There are broader capability benefits to the ADF by enhancing interoperability with US DoD platforms and services. This is achieved through shared technology roadmaps, personnel exchanges, and better understanding requirements for next-generation systems.
For rotary platforms, this is highlighted by technology transfer for manned-unmanned teaming (MUM-T) concepts, and enhanced data links to deliver improved battlespace awareness.