By Staff Writer | July 1, 2007
Australia’s decision to proceed with the long-delayed Super Seasprite program should help field a crucial, over-the-horizon fleet-protection capability for its navy, but flies in the face of efforts to simplify rotorcraft operations.
In April 2006, Defence Minister Brendan Nelson launched a review of the Royal Australian Navy’s project to acquire 11 SH-2G(A) Super Seasprites from a contractor team led by the helicopter maker, Kaman.
The review followed grounding of the aircraft due to concerns over the reliability of its automated flight control system and looked at that issue and the ramifications of the six-year delay in fielding the helicopter. The review was widely considered a prelude to cancellation. But Kaman and Seasprite advocates in Australia prevailed. On May 25, Nelson said, "the government has decided to continue the Seasprite project, subject to satisfactory contract arrangements."
Since the Seasprite was selected, Australia has adopted a policy of simplifying military rotorcraft operations to eliminate the logistics burden of numerous, small fleets of aircraft. That Air 9000 project led to the selection of the NHIndustries NH90 for both army and navy missions.
In a related move, Australia in early May grounded the Navy’s Sikorsky Aircraft Sea Kings following a routine pre-flight inspection that found two split pins missing in a system that Australia Defence Forces said was "not critical to flight safety." As a precautionary measure, commanders temporarily suspended flights of the Navy’s six Sea Kings. The Navy had grounded the Sea Kings after a fatal April 2005 crash in Sumatra.