Australia’s search for a new armed reconnaissance helicopter to replace the Army’s troubled Airbus Helicopters Tiger fleet was a major topic at the Avalon Airshow, held near Melbourne from February 28 to March 5. The show also featured—as expected—the first Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II and Boeing EA-18G Growler. The RAAF’s Boeing P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft and Leonardo C-27J battlefield airlifter also made their Avalon debuts.
The country’s 2016 Defence White Paper stated that the 22 Tigers should be replaced starting around 2025. Boeing brought a factory-fresh AH-64E Apache to the show, while Bell Helicopters had an AH-1Z Viper cockpit simulator at its stand in the exhibition hall. The Apache conducted demonstration flights throughout the week, and Boeing emphasized that AH-64 production will run until 2026 based on current orders. Bell disclosed that it had made an unsolicited offer of the AH-1Z as a Tiger replacement.
Bell’s is also offering the UH-1Y Venom for Australia’s Special Forces light helicopter program, which is expected to kick off in 2018 and cost A$2-3 billion (U.S.$1.5-2.3 billion). This machine is required to “insert, extract and provide fire support for small teams of Special Forces undertaking tasks ranging from tactical observation through to counter-terrorism missions, or hostage recovery.” It must be rapidly deployable by the RAAF’s C-17 airlifters three or four at a time. This could be a problem for Bell as it acknowledges only two Venoms can be carried in a single C-17. Other possible contenders for the program include the Boeing AH-6i Little Bird and the Airbus H145M.
At the show, Airbus and the RAAF announced a joint study into how to add capability to the A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport (MRTT). The RAAF is seeking a fully automatic refueling boom that will reduce the workload of the boom operator and help receiver aircraft by making boom movements more predictable. Airbus will also look at adapting the A330MRTT to serve as an airborne communications node and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platform.
Discovery Air Defence Services announced the award of a two-year trial contract to provide Red Air and fighter support to the RAAF, plus Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC) training to the Australian Army, and anti-surface training for the Royal Australian Navy. The "Jet Air Support-Fast Jet Trial" consists of three upgraded ex-German Alpha Jets to be based at RAAF Williamtown from the third quarter of 2017.
The Canadian company has partnered with Air Affairs Australia, whose managing director Chris Sievers told AIN that the Alpha Jets will offer “performance that is much more representative of a fighter” compared to the Learjet 45s currently used in the role.