Ten yers after taking delivery of its first NH Industries (NHI) NH-90 helicopters, the Australian Army is finally preparing to use them in the most demanding role. Because of poor performance issues, the army unit that supports operations by the country’s special forces was obliged to retain its Sikorsky S-70 Black Hawks. But now the 6th Aviation Regiment is planning to introduce the type—which is designated and named the MRH-90 Taipan in Australia—in 2019. The Army is enjoying increased flying hours and reduced maintenance hours on the type in 2017.
A report on the MRH-90 by the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) in 2014 noted that the original self-defense door gun impeded “a range of cabin workflow requirements” including fast-roping operations by special forces troops. So the Army will be introducing a new gun mount, according to Lt. Col. Kim Gilfillan, commanding officer of the 5th Aviation Regiment, which already operates the type.
Speaking exclusively to AIN during a recent visit to his base at Townsville, Gilfillan said the new mount will be able to fire the Dillon M134D 7.62mm minigun as well as the General Purpose Machine Gun (GPMG), while allowing Special Forces operators to conduct missions using the new fast roping, rappelling and extraction system (FRRES) at the same time.
Other cabin and configuration issues also meant that the MRH-90 has been unable to support the deployment of three combat troops simultaneously by fast roping. The ANAO report also highlighted issues with the sustainment of the helicopters, with aircraft availability, maturity and sustainment costs unable to meet planned targets.
However, Major Jason Long, officer commanding the 5th Regiment’s Technical Support Squadron, told AIN that the "rate of effort" (ROE) has gone from 1,775 airframe hours (AFHRs) in 2016 to 3,300 AFHRs so far in 2017, with the final figure for the year expected to double that achieved in 2016.
Long also said that maintenance man-hours per flight hour had reduced to about 31 from the 45 previously experienced by the regiment. This was attributed to the regiment’s battle rhythm, production planning and control improvements and also better spares and maintenance staff support from Airbus Helicopters. NHI is a joint venture between Airbus and Leonardo, which is represented in Australia by Airbus.