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Defence downselects Helicopter Aircrew Training System bidders

written by WOFA | May 30, 2013

Navy Squirrels and Army Kiowas will be replaced under the HATS program. (Paul Sadler)

Three tenderers have been down-selected to move to the second phase of the Helicopter Aircrew Training System (HATS) competition.

Teams led by Australian Aerospace (EC135), Boeing Defence Australia (EC135) and Raytheon Australia (Bell 429) will now go forward to submit final proposals under AIR 9000 Phase 7 to meet the future rotary-wing training needs of the Australian Defence Force (ADF). Most notable from the shortlist is AgustaWestland, which had teamed with CAE and BAE Systems.

Army and Navy students are set to be trained from 2016-17 in Nowra, New South Wales under the framework of the HATS project, which is valued at up to $1 billion. The new system will include light twin-engine helicopters, plus synthetic training devices.

According to a statement from Minister for Defence Stephen Smith and Minister for Defence Materiel Dr Mike Kelly released on May 30, the introduction of the AIR 9000 Phase 7 training system will see the retirement of 40 Kiowa helicopters operated by Army and 13 Squirrel helicopters operated by Navy.

“This new joint training system will overcome the broadening gap in training systems required for the advanced operational helicopters to be operated by the future ADF, including 22 Tiger Armed Reconnaissance Helicopters, 47 MRH 90 Multi Role Helicopters, 24 Seahawk Romeo maritime combat helicopters and seven CH-47F Chinook medium-lift helicopters,” the ministers stated.

The government is expected to select the successful HATS contractor team by mid-2014.


  • John N


    It will be interesting to see which of the three contenders comes up with the best overall package.

    On the one hand you have the EC135 an older but very widely used aircraft with a significant number of police and half a dozen military operators, including Germany. On the other hand, the much more modern and newer Bell 429 which currently only has one military operator, the RAN with three leased examples.

    Still, I think the final decision will probably be more around the ‘total’ system package offered by the contenders, rather than a ‘face to face’ showdown between the two aircraft types, which on paper may show that the much newer and more modern Bell 429, may stand the test of time better, but still it will probably come down to a ‘total’ systems package decision.

    On a side note, the announcement by the Def Min today mentioned that these new aircraft will allow the retirement of the ’40 Kiowa and 13 Squirrels’ in the training role.

    Whilst the number of Navy Squirrels appears to be about right, the Army, from what I understand, actually has around 27 Kiowa’s still in service, 19 at Oakey for training and 8 at Holsworthy in the Light Utility Helicopter role with 173 Sqn, (of the original 56 purchased the remainder have either been sold off, written off or are in storage), so I don’t know where Def Min Smith get’s his 40 number from unless he is also counting those that are reported to be in storage.

    There has been no mention of the actual number of airframes to be procured, but I’d suspect that the total number would probably be 30 or less, if comparing to the total number of airframes currently reported to be dedicated solely to ‘training’ of Army and Navy pilots.

    Obviously HATS is all about finding a replacement to train Army and Navy pilots on more modern and relevant aircraft, but does this also mean that the Army’s Light Utility Helicopter capability just disappears if the 8 Kiowa’s in that role are retired without replacement?


    John N

  • PT


    @ John N

    HATS is less about the platform (ie. EC135 or B429) and more about the training programme that the tenderers are offering to Defence. The platforms are practically interchangeable, and either will do the job just fine.

    Defence will be looking at the [b]training system[/b] each team will be offering according to capability requirements and costs, the mix of live and synthetic training, and how the syllabus will link into other ADF pilot input/output programmes. I would hope that there is a lot of consultation with the AIR 5428 – Pilot Training System team because PTS will be inputting pilots into HATS.

    All of this makes public comparison between the tenders difficult, because although we can debate on the platforms as they are publicly known quantities, the actual decision will be made on the system as a whole and without the bid documents we can’t evaluate it on details and hard numbers.

  • Damian


    Interesting comments John – I wonder what is supposed to take over the Light utility role or will the best of the old Blackhawks do some of this??

  • John N



    Yes as you said, certainly in more detail that I did, the selection of the actual airframe is only a small part of the overall package and that it is about the ‘training system’ that each of the contenders is offering.


    I seriously doubt that any of the Blackhawks will be retained for a ‘Light Utility Role’ they would be just way too big and expensive to operate.

    And I do remember that at the time ‘Team Romeo’ put their winning bid in for the Seahawk replacement, part of their offering was to set up a facility here to ‘refurbish’ the remaining Blackhawks and Seahawks for resale, eg, employment opportunities and also a return on investment for the resale of refurbished airframes to the Government.

    I don’t know if that is still happening or not, but regardless, I think that keeping a Sqn of Blackhawks for a light utility role doesn’t appear to be on the cards, though there was talk at one stage of keeping some of the Blackhawks for the Special Forces, but again, I’ve never heard anything more about that possibility either.

    I know this announcement is specifically about the HATS contenders, but the question that came to my mind when Def Min Smith said that all ’40’ remaining Kiowa’s were to be retired, where does this leave the Army for a Light Utility Helicopter capability? In fact, where does it leave the Navy as well regarding Light Utility Helicopters too?

    Will the HATS airframes be ‘solely’ dedicated to training, or will sufficient be purchased to also allow the Army and Navy to utilise them in a light utility role when required? Or does that capability just disappear without a replacement?


    John N

  • Andrew McLaughlin


    Team Romeo didn’t propose the refurb work, Sikorsky did that as a stand alone proposal.

    There is much work to do, both politically and commercially before that proposal is accepted,

    The HATS requirement for a twin takes into account potential future commonaliity with a nascent Phase 9 LUH requirement.

  • Peter


    So finally a step forward on rotary training. That’s great, what about fixed wing training ? For years the system for RAAF pilot trainees has been less than inspiring. It’s extremely common that once graduating ADFA or from direct entry, many are stalled for up to 6 months due to lack of platforms and instructors at BFTS. Remember this same facility ( BAE as a contractor ) also processes training for other air forces, Brunei, PNG etc, and also flight screening for initial applicants. BFTS process all ADF initial training so Army & Navy trainee helicopter pilots initially train at BFTS on CT-4s. Until 2 years ago, they also had some tail-draggers, so when they went, the pool of available aircraft reduced, so the volume of pilots being trained slowed also. So for up to 6 months, many trainee pilots are allocated to DFR or to a squadron where they likely fly desks. If they are AFDA graduates, they have been commissioned as Officers and collecting pay accordingly. They’ve had 3 years at ADFA preparing for BFTS. They’re jumping out of their skin – their ready to do what the signed up for. Anyway, when they finally get through BFTS, they can then be stalled for another 6 months because there’s no space at 2FTS, so again, and on full pay, they are side-lined to a non flying role, where they tread water while waiting to get on to PC-9s. Imagine eventually being on the flightline at Pearce, and the locally based Singapore Air Force trainee pulls his PC-21 up next to you. The SAF have had them there for years, and we’re not even close to a short list, or a decision, let alone acquisition of a relevant platform. Anyway, finally you get your wings, and if selected for fast jets, get ready for another wait, as 79 Sqn cannot process the volume of pilots coming on to Hawks in one hit.
    Why is there all the talk about JSFs V’s the latest F-15s , or should we get the Eurofighter etc etc ? These arguments are irrelevant if the pilots don’t have enough experience to fly them.The initial RAAF F-35 squadron will have current F/A 18 Classic pilots. Through natural attrition,the next squadron will be the pilots going through ADFA right now. Get the initial training right – make a decision, get the systems, get the right training platforms to ensure a stop to this inertia and wastage. Otherwise the 2nd Sqn of F-35s may go straight into storage while the training system and subsequent fast-jet flying hours catches up.
    Why is it that all our allies – the USAF, Royal Air Force, Canada, Singapore etc etc all start their pilot training while the trainees are at each countries academy ? Whatever it is that we know better than them, it isn’t working. If the answer is cost saving, then what’s the cost of these young trainees full of enthusiasm and latent ability being sidelined and their careers stalled to such an extent ?

  • Aubrey


    WTH does “down-selected” mean? How is it different to “shortlisted”, or even just “selected”? Now I’m wondering what “up-selected” means. C’mon AV your journalism is usually better then that, did the deadline prevent you from paraphrasing a defence media release into something beyond defence bureaucratic corporate-speak?

  • Andrew McLaughlin


    That’s the word the ministerial release used…

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