A fleet-wide grounding of all Australian MRH-90 helicopters recently put a significant dent in ship-to-shore capabilities – and no doubt dented some egos too – during Australia’s largest and most prestigious exercise.
CAPTION: An Australian Army officer co-pilots a Royal New Zealand Air Force NH90 helicopter with a New Zealand pilot from No. 3 Squadron RNZAF during Exercise Talisman Sabre. NZDF photo.
During a flight that departed the Landing Helicopter Dock ship HMAS Adelaide on the first day of Exercise Talisman Sabre, an Australian Army MRH-90 helicopter developed a tail-rotor vibration that caused the pilot to abort his mission.
The helicopter returned to HMAS Adelaide and conducted a ‘precautionary landing’.
No one was injured, but the incident was serious enough to warrant an in-depth technical investigation – and, while that investigation was underway, the Australian Defence Force ceased all MRH-90 flying.
An Australian Defence Force spokesman confirmed to CONTACT on Friday 26 July that this fleet-wide grounding was still in effect as Exercise Talisman Sabre concluded.
UPDATE: CONTACT asked Defence for a further update on 9 August – they said, “The MRH-90 fleet will progressively resume flying from this week, as a minor modification is made to address the issue identified during the investigation”.
UPDATE 2: The German Bundeswehr grounded its entire fleet of Tiger helicopters on 2 August when it was informed that certain bolts in flight-critical areas were defective. Flying is expected to resume gradually as the bolts are replaced, beginning 13 August. We have asked Defence if this will affect the Aussie Tiger fleet and are waiting for their response.
The failure of the MRH-90 fleet to show up for Australia’s largest exercise came just weeks after an ABC report revealed the helicopter was on a ‘secret’ Projects of Concern list.
MRH-90 has not yet reached Final Operational Capability, which was officially supposed to happen in 2014.
The ADF owns 47 Airbus MRH-90 Taipan helicopters, bought at a project cost of more than $3.5billion.
The Australian Army’s 5th Aviation Regiment at RAAF Base Townsville operates two squadrons of nine MRH-90s, with the Navy’s 808 Squadron at Nowra, NSW, operating six. The remainder are used for training or are in routine maintenance.
RELATED STORY: In 2017, the entire Tiger ARH fleet was grounded for 13 weeks.