Australia is spending $2 billion on a fleet of US Black Hawk helicopters


The Black Hawks will replace Australia’s fleet of European-designed Taipan helicopters which will be retired a decade early.

Australia has announced it will dump its fleet of European-designed Taipan military helicopters a decade ahead of schedule and replace them with 40 Black Hawk helicopters from the United States at an estimated cost of AUD 2.8 billion ($1. 97 billion).

US manufacturer Lockheed Martin Corp.’s UH-60M Black Hawks will replace Australia’s fleet of MRH-90 Taipan helicopters, which have been plagued with costly maintenance issues for years, Defense Secretary Richard Marles said on Wednesday.

“We just don’t have the flying hours out of the Taipan that we would need,” Marles told ABC News. “We are confident we can get that from the Black Hawks. It’s a platform we’re familiar with.”

The French government has a significant stake in Airbus – the European airline company that produces the Taipans – and Paris had urged Australia to keep its 40-strong fleet.

Marles said he had spoken to his French counterpart several times and was confident that the US helicopter deal “will not interrupt” the renewed relationship with France.

In a statement, Airbus said it “recognizes” the decision and that Australia remains an important market for the company.

Royal Australian Navy aircrew from the 808 Squadron beside their MRH90 Taipan helicopter in Wollongong, Australia in November 2021. Australia will ditch its fleet of European-designed Taipans and instead buy US Black Hawks [File: Kylie Gibson/ADF via AP]

The dropping of the Taipans comes as relations between Paris and Canberra had heated up following Australia’s decision in 2021 to ditch French-made submarines for nuclear submarines to be built by the United States and the United Kingdom.

The shocking move by Australia’s then-Conservative government to abruptly tear up the $90 billion ($62 billion) deal with France for the supply of submarines sparked a bitter diplomatic dispute and relations plummeted.

At the height of the controversy, French President Emmanuel Macron accused Australia’s then Prime Minister Scott Morrison of lying about the deal, and Paris recalled its ambassador from Canberra.

Marles said he was confident the helicopter deal would not hurt relations with France, which had recovered somewhat since the submarine spat.

“The most important thing here is to deal fairly with the French,” he told national broadcaster ABC.

The acquisition of Black Hawks comes as Australia moves to increase defense spending as China strengthens its presence in the Indo-Pacific region.

Australian Major General Jeremy King said the Black Hawks would meet the country’s strategic needs.

“This acquisition means we can continue to defend Australia for years to come and respond in a safe and effective manner in times of need,” King told ABC News.

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