The Australian army will never fly its fleet of MRH-90 Taipan helicopters again after a July crash that killed four soldiers, according to the country’s defense minister.
Since July 28, when one of Australia’s more than 40 European-designed Taipans fell into the Pacific Ocean in a night-time training exercise in the Whitsunday Islands, which are off the northeast Australian coast, the country’s fleet of more than 40 Taipans has been grounded.
Defense Minister Richard Marles told Nine Network tv that the “only decision that makes sense” is to permanently stop Taipan operations.
“We’re making this decision today,” said Mr Marles.
“In many ways, it was inevitable,” he said of the US-built helicopters that would replace Australia’s Airbus-manufactured fleet. “But it’s an important step in the right direction so that we can get the Black Hawk in the air as quickly as possible.”
In January, the government announced plans to replace the Taipans with 40 UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters. The Taipans retiring in December 2024 will have been 13 years sooner than Australia had intended.
Mr Marles said the government made the decision to stop flying the Taipans now since one of the four investigations into the incident will take another year.
After the cause for the crash is determined and any flaws in the Taipan fleet are fixed, he estimates that they will only be flying for a few weeks before being retired.
The Taipan fleet has been suspended since January after a helicopter ditched off the southeast Australian coast during a the evening counterterrorism training exercise. The ten passengers or crew members were all saved.
This month saw the delivery of the first three Sikorsky Aircraft-built Black Hawk helicopters in Australia.
Mr Marles continued: “There are going to be challenges around a capability gap here, and that’s why we are collaborating with other nations, particularly the United States, particularly to get additional time for air crew to receive instruction so that they can be certified on the Black Hawk as quickly as possible.”
From 2025, the Australian army will also start flying new Airbus AH-64E Apache helicopters.
The Australian Defense Force will continue to fly MH-60R Seahawks, as well as Eurocopter Tiger and Boeing CH-47F Chinooks, in addition to Black Hawks.