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30 Aug 04. Australia said yesterday its military will buy 12 heavy-lift MRH-90 helicopters from Eurocopter for A$1 billion (S$1.2bn), choosing the French design over the Black Hawk chopper from the United States, Canberra’s preferred military supplier.

The MRH-90 is picked over the Black Hawk as it can operate from amphibious ships. In a move designed to boost the federal government’s national security credentials ahead of an Oct 9 election, Prime Minister John Howard said the new helicopters would significantly boost Australia’s counter-terrorism capabilities. ‘It has been estimated that this new squadron will increase the army’s troop-lift capacity by more than one-half,’ he told reporters.

He said the acquisition would also free up an existing squadron of Black Hawk helicopters to support special forces defending Australia’s east coast.
The contract was awarded to Eurocopter’s Australian subsidiary Australian Aerospace, with the aircraft to be delivered between 2007 and 2008.Australian Aerospace edged out US firm Sikorsky for the contract, even though the Australian Defence Force already has 36 Black Hawks and has preferred US contractors in recent years to ensure its military has ‘interoperability’ with US forces.

Canberra has signed up to Washington’s controversial missile defence shield and is spending an estimated A$16 billion on the US Joint Strike Fighter. Earlier this year, it ordered 59 second-hand US Abrams tanks. Army chief Peter Leahy said the MRH-90’s ability to operate from amphibious ships was a crucial factor in clinching the contract.

Meanwhile, the first opinion poll published in the current election campaign indicated that Mr Howard’s conservative coalition government is whittling away the opposition Labor Party’s slender lead among voters. According to Newspoll, which was published in The Australian national newspaper, said the proportion of voters who preferred the Liberal-National Party coalition, led by Mr Howard, climbed to 48 per cent in two weeks while Labor’s lead had dropped to 52 per cent. — AFP, AP

Following on from success with the Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter project, Eurocopter is offering a superb contender with the MRH-90 Australian variant of the twin-engine, 10-tonne NH-90. This type is designed to NATO standard to meet the joint needs of France, Italy, Germany and The Netherlands to replace their ageing helicopter types.

The NH-90 uses composite materials extensively and there is a high degree of system modularity and integration. The two variants (tactical transport (TTH) and the naval (NFH) versions are fully day/night capable and able to operate under adverse weather conditions.

The TTH is ideally suited for tactical land-based airlift with its 20-troop, 2500kg cargo capacity with entry/exit via a fuselage-width rear opening ramp or side doors. Mission-specific roles include or special operations, electronic warfare and airborne command and control.

The navalised NFH variant is suited to ASW and ASuW roles and can be operated from Australian frigates. It would be available for the Phase 3 – Naval Sea King Mid-Life Upgrade if that were an option, but likely Defence would opt for upgrading existing Sea King airframes or possibly looking at the MH-60S now under development for the US Navy The MH-60S is a hybrid combining the baseline Black Hawk with Seahawk T-700-GE-401C engines, automatic rotor blade folding system, rapid folding tail pylon, transmission and drive train with improved durability.

In the initial stages when Phases 2 and 4 were separate there was concern that commitments to manufacturing NH-90s to meet European orders would not allow a fast-track of Australian aircraft for the urgent troop-lift requirement, but combining Phases 2 and 4 stops this being an issue.

Onboard the MRH-90 is a full ‘Glass’ cockpit, with an Avionics System consisting of a Core Avionics System and a Mission System. The Core System controls basic aircraft ca

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