The Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) has released a highly critical report on Australia’s acquisition and entry into service of the NH Industries MRH90 multi-role helicopter for the Army and Navy.
The Australian Government ordered the MRH90 – an Australian variant of the NH90 assembled in Brisbane by Australian Aerospace – over the competing Sikorsky S-70M Black Hawk in 2004 and 2006 under Project AIR 9000 Phases 2, 4 and 6, despite the Department of Defence recommending the cheaper Black Hawk for Phases 2 and 4.
The program has been plagued with problems and is currently running four years behind schedule, with first operational capability milestones for the Army and Navy yet to be achieved. Problems include the self-defense gun system, cabin seating and cargo hook, all of which have required redesign due to “significant operational deficiencies.” The report says: “Operation test and evaluation had not validated the ability of the MRH90 aircraft to satisfy any of the 11 operational capability milestones set by the Army and Navy.” Reliability and maintainability of the aircraft have also been poor.
Photo courtesy ADF
By March 2014, more than A$2.4 billion had been spent on acquiring and sustaining the MRH90 fleet – 27 of the total 47 of which have been delivered. The ANAO predicts the total cost of acquiring and sustaining the fleet until 2040 will be A$11.7 billion.
The ANAO says the program’s problems are “primarily a consequence of program development deficiencies and acquisition decisions during the period 2002 to 2006.” The DoD’s helicopter capabilities requirements definition was inadequate, did not properly inform the source selection process and led to gaps in contract requirements, says the ANAO. Furthermore, DoD did not effectively assess the maturity of the MRH90 and Black Hawk designs to inform the development of contracts, while the contracts did not provide adequate protections for the government.
“Considerable work remains to implement and verify some design changes and to adjust operational tactics, techniques and procedures in order to develop an adequate multi-role helicopter capability,” says the report. Final operational capability is now scheduled for April 2019 – 57 months late.