The New Zealand government has approved the purchase of an upgraded and increased Seasprite helicopter fleet for the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF), taking up aircraft originally destined for Australia.
Ten airframes comprising eight Seasprites and two spare airframes will be purchased from Kaman Aerospace under a NZ$242 million project that also includes a full motion training simulator, Penguin air-to-surface missiles, and additional components.
NZ Defence Minister Dr Jonathan Coleman said the NZDF currently has five SH-2G Seasprites that have been in service since the late 1990s and are due for replacement.
“This package will provide the Navy with an upgraded variant, the Seasprite SH-2G(I) and increase the fleet from five to eight helicopters. It will allow helicopters to be embarked on the two ANZAC-class frigates as well as the offshore patrol vessels and the multi-role ship HMNZS Canterbury,” Coleman said.
The government has defended the decision to increase the number of Seasprites stating the current fleet of five helicopters is too small and that only two aircraft are regularly available for use on the NZ navy’s ships with one being used for training and two in maintenance at any one time.
“These helicopters come with modernised sensor, weapons and flight control systems and will be a major boost to our maritime surveillance and search capability. The helicopters will also ensure that our naval fleet is able to operate at its full potential,” said Dr Coleman.
The replacement helicopters were originally built for the Australian Defence Force as the SH-2G(A) as part of a $1 billion order. In 2009 the Australian government elected to cancel the contract and not to introduce them into service after questions about their suitability to meet Australia’s requirements, Coleman said.
“The New Zealand Defence Force and Ministry of Defence officials are acutely aware that the Australian government decided not to fully introduce these aircraft into service after concerns about a range of technical issues. As a consequence the New Zealand Ministry of Defence has invested considerable resources into examining all aspects of this project over the last two years.”
Critically, New Zealand will operate its SH-2Is with three crew, rather than two for the SH-2G(A), and changes have been made to the troublesome flight control system.
The first three aircraft are due in New Zealand in late 2014. All eight are expected to be in service during 2016.