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Avalon 2023: Australia cancels special forces light helicopter requirement

Australia expects to use on-order UH-60M Black Hawks to provide dedicated support for special forces operations. (Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation)

The Australian Defence Force (ADF) has decided against acquiring 16 light helicopters to support special forces operations, Major General Stephen Jobson, the commander of the Australian Army's Aviation Command, has disclosed.

Speaking to journalists at the Avalon 2023 international airshow on 1 March, Maj Gen Jobson said that project Land 2097 Phase 4 had been cancelled owing to forthcoming overlapping capabilities.

These involve programmes to procure the Boeing AH-64E Apache Guardian, Sikorsky UH-60M Black Hawk, and an expanded fleet of Boeing CH-47F Chinooks.

Forty Black Hawks are set to replace the Australian Army's 41 in-service Airbus MRH90 Taipan multirole helicopters, with the first of type expected in Australia in the second quarter of 2023.

“The UH-60M will come into service as an aircraft system that will provide dedicated support to Australia's special forces,” Maj Gen Jobson said.

All 22 Airbus Tiger armed reconnaissance helicopters will be replaced by 29 AH-64E Apache attack helicopters later in the decade, and the CH-47 fleet has already been increased from 10 to 14 aircraft, he said.

“We're also moving from two batteries of Shadow tactical unmanned aerial systems (UASs) to three batteries of the Insitu Integrator UAS”, Maj Gen Jobson said.

Under Land 2097 Phase 4, 16 commercial off-the-shelf light helicopters were to have been acquired to support special operations counter-terrorism activities.

Three bidders responded to a request for proposals issued by the Australian Department of Defence (DoD) in July 2020. These comprised Airbus Group Australia Pacific with the Airbus Helicopters H145M; and Babcock and Jet Australia each with a solution based on the Bell 429.

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