world of aviation logo

Stopwatch reset – again – for MRH90

written by WOFA | May 9, 2013

The Defence Materiel Organisation (DMO) has signed an agreement with Australian Aerospace and its industry partners the Defence Minister says will “help put the MRH90 helicopter program back on a positive footing”.

The agreement “re-baselines the project’s schedule and settles a number of disputed program issues”. The MRH90 program is three years late and has experienced a number of technical and commercial challenges and is currently on the government’s Projects of Concern list. Australian Aerospace is developing and implementing a range of technical fixes that will ensure the MRH90s being delivered to Army and Navy are reliable and effective.

The agreement also covers a number of commercial and contractual measures that are aimed to make the MRH90 more affordable and increase confidence in the revised delivery schedule. Included in the agreement is the delivery of a 47th airframe, at no additional cost, to be used as a live training aid for Army and Navy aviation technicians who undergo MRH90 training at the Army’s Aviation Maintenance school at Oakey, Queensland.

Despite the extensive delays and disputes, Defence Minister Smith said: “Overall, this is a good outcome for Defence and Australian Aerospace.  Both parties have worked collaboratively, within the Projects of Concern framework, to reach this positive outcome.

“With continued good progress, the MRH90 program will be considered for removal from the Projects of Concern list by the end of 2013,” Smith added.


  • Do you think that in hindsight Defence should have purchased 60 new Blackhawks and 30 Apaches for the price of the European junk they bought? Who is going to pay the price for yet one more lousy defence purchase? Oh I know! The Australian public. Again!

  • NGF


    With the MRH90 and the Tiger ARH Defence chose unproven designs. In both cases this has led to significant delays because of technical and contractual problems.

    Instead they could have selected battle proven late model Blackhawks (with some additional Chinooks to match the number of troops lifted) and Apaches.

    The American helicopters would have been operational by now and would have also provided direct interoperability with US forces.

    But since Defence has gone down the MRH90 and Tiger path, Army will have to make the best of it. Hopefully both systems be prove to be effective in the end.

  • Neil P


    Its always the way with new aircraft. When you compare the technology and capability, the Tiger is an excellent alternative to the Apache. The difference is in cleansheet (Tiger) design versus evolutionary (Apache.) As aircraft become more complex, so too will the delays become more extravigant. Just ask Boeing and Airbus!

    For the NH90, the rather benign environment where its testing was done didnt throw up many of the issues that would later become so very obvious. Operators of the NH 90 have been watching the developments here very closely and a range of fixes to the global fleet have occured because of the Aussie experience. The NH 90s operating in theatre have been modified and can perform the work because of Aussie fixes.

    You will find that, in the end, both aircraft will perform the way they were intended and the early troubles will serve as another warning to manufacturers.

  • John N


    I agree with the points that Neil P has made.

    On the surface it is easy to give ‘Euro’ products a kicking, but problems with new military aircraft isn’t mutually exclusive to just Europe.

    Sure on the one hand US FMS purchases of C17’s, F/A18F’s and the soon to come into service MH60R’s are and will be pretty straight forward. But those aircraft are all now ‘mature’ systems that have been in production for a long time.

    On the other hand lets not forget issues with ‘made in America’ that we have had with, for example, the Seasprite and especially the contract for the Seasprite that saw the Government hand over most of the money and then cancel it.

    Lets not forget the E7A Wedgetail, in service now, many years late and may not achieve all that was promised, the one bright point was the contract with Boeing, it was fixed price and the many $100’s of millions of extra dollars had to come out of Boeing’s pockets to get the aircraft to the point it is now.

    And probably the biggest one is the F111C’s, 10 years from order to delivery, including 5 years in storage, over budget, but in the end, an aircraft that gave 37 years of great service.

    My opinion, for what it’s worth, yes if we can obtain aircraft from the US that ‘match’ the requirement, then that should put them to the top of the list during the selection process.

    If not, then lets not stop looking at Euro products, if they are going to give us the capability that is required.

    I think one of the big lessons to be learnt by Government from the examples above, both US and European products, is to make sure the contracts are as watertight as possible, have clear goals set, have severe over run and delivery delay penalties, etc.

    Maybe that would make all the manufacturers a bit more cautious of what they print in the glossy sales brochures!!


    John N

  • PT


    People forget so quickly. Does nobody remember the pain the Army went through with the Blackhawk in the early years? Cracking and corrosion and serviceability issues and a lack of spares arriving from the manufacturer had commentators calling them lemons. Is this situation sounding at all familiar?

    Well, Army learnt how to operate complex aircraft (up until then it was just Kiowas) and developed proper procedures for operating a new type. They learnt that the Blackhawks needed to be treated differently to Kiowas and Hueys, and it couldn’t just be kicked around like a flying M113. Army and Sikorsky got their act together on servicing and spares, structural issues rectified and corrosion controlled through improved maintenance procedures.

    Congratulations to Sikorsky for sorting their aircraft out through 30 years of operations and development. They sorted it out just like every other manufacturer does – the hard way, as operational service exposes issues. How about we give Eurocopter the same opportunity to rectify their issues?

    The biggest problem for the MRH-90 is that there is no parent military throwing money and resources at the problems in the same way the US did at the Blackhawk in the 1980’s. The US will spend until it works or it gets cancelled.

    In the life of an aircraft, these are teething issues. The basic aircraft is sound. I have a feeling that in 20 years time we’ll be looking back and thinking what a great workhorse the MRH-90 is, just like military and civil operators around the world think of their Super Pumas.

    Note that I have no connection with Eurocopter/AA, just pointing out a bit of history and using it for perspective.

  • Dan


    Sorry NH90 and Tiger have been disastrous for the ADF. New benchmark US Equipment as massive preference and off the shelf only. Case in point 10 years in Afghanistan and we didn’t even supply our own air support apart from 2, yes two CH-47D+ Chinooks. Worse still we now have two Helicopter platforms and the underpowered, troublesome Tiger cant even get fully operational 8 years after initial purchase. An absolute crock. We keep paying exorbitant prices for rubbish in Defence. Why, to support an over subsidised defence industry. Classic case in point M113 rebuilds – totally combat incapable and 1/3 straight into storage.

  • Darren


    From the comments above it would seem that the most important aspect is to ensure tenders are evaluated with rigour and excellence, questioning supplier claims to appropriate risk versus schedule and capability surety. Further Defence needs to match its needs against mature and evolving systems. While a developing capability may deliver a greater capability in the end the delays and risk might not be worth it. The media love a major project that wastes government funding, and Defence has large purchases in dollar value. It can make them easy targets. This in turn can lead to future funding difficulties where political masters and the voting public care little about defence and the highlighted waste. I can only hope that lessons are learned from each project that improves the next, that Defence seeks realistic solutions, and that politicians and committees contribute only to provide objective input averse to excessive risk and that the delivered system will be fit for purpose. While it would seem there is room for improvement unfortunately delays and difficulties will continue. Even with the best system we will still have humans who can make mistakes using it.

    Applicable to more than just aviation programs is the bath tub curve. This is a graph plot basically showing that a new system has high costs associated with introduction to service and as experience builds with operations. As time passes this flattens out as the system reaches maturity. Late in the programs life costs climb as the system ages and new problems emerge. Naturally you want the costs to drop rapidly and field a FOC system as quickly as possible to enjoy the stability of years of operations before old age. Some programs are better than others, but none evade the bath tub curve.

  • On the inside


    The one failure of th MRH90 that has not been mentioned here is the outsourcing of the fleet management logistics to Australian Aerospace. Consistent failures in the supply and maintenance or spares and repairable items and provisioning has seen significant delays. Don’t get me started on the outrageous mark up on pricing! If the public only knew!

  • Andrew McLaughlin


    I can ensure all reqders of this forum rhat the AIR87 and AIR9000 Phase 2/4/6 tenders were “evaluated with rigour and excellence”. The eventual decisions were not necessarily based on capability, cost or schedule.

    That said, there is alot to like about both the Tuger and the MRH…we just need to get them and their logistics trains fully sorted!

  • Stewart


    Has a list of the possible technical fixes been released?

  • Black Hawk fan


    While other country’s are reducing numbers, we are sticking with it. Why? And now Instead of being a small operator in a large fleet we are now a large operator in a small fleet. Whether people like it or not, it’s here to stay. The decision makers aren’t going to allow another Seasprite debacle so they will make it work. In hindsight mike model Black Hawk and Cobras would have been operational by now. A little too late to ensure that Andrew Mclaug, I assume you mean assure?

  • Andrew McLaughlin



    …damn iPhones..

  • PT


    @ Black Hawk fan

    Quote: “While other country’s are reducing numbers, we are sticking with it. Why?”

    Are you joking? Is this an incredible troll?
    Where have you been the last FIVE years that you’ve missed a global economic crisis that has decimated the economies of most nations, including (or especially) the European nations that have comprised most of the NH-90 orders (France/Germany/Italy/Spain)?
    Have you failed to notice that these nations have also reduced orders of fighters, transports, helicopters, tanks, APCs, warships, etc, etc, etc?
    Have you failed to notice that these nations have also reduced number of squadrons, regiments, and battalions that had previously utilised these systems?
    European budget cuts to the military has been very painful.

    Apart from that, why are we keeping it?
    Because it isn’t as bad a screw up as the Seasprite which was a perfect storm of procurement screw ups (small production run, ADF unique, small supplier, shifting goalposts)? That the aircraft is basically fine, but is still being “matured” in light of real-world operational use?

    The Blackhawk SHOULD be mature given the time Sikorsky has had to iron out the Blackhawk’s issues. The Blackhawk was designed in the early-70’s and has been operational since the late-70’s. That is 35 years of constant improvement.

  • Darren


    Just a response in general.

    I am sure that the ADF evaluate tenders with “rigour and excellence”. However there are just too many delays and cost issues. The standard needs to be improved constantly. This is happening, but with programs that run over many years sometimes problems emerge years later.

    Many of the projects that are delayed are developmental in nature, not a mature system. Comments are made about the success of the C-17 and F/A-18F. Both very mature systems. I think the Seahawk ‘Romeo’ will be much the same.

    In selecting aircraft that are still being developed we need to accept higher risk. The alternatives are to wait until it’s ready, look for and accept something that is potentially years old and does not meet the specifications, or accept the pain in cost and delays that could come with a new system being developed. Sure that system might not eventually meet ‘spec’, but it promises a developmental path.

    So the question is do we seek the best equipment with balanced risk or consign the ADF to only purchasing off the shelf proven capabilities whether it meets our needs or not? I don’t know the answer, however in my humble opinion I think we should get the best we can, even if we need to delay a few years to allow system maturity. Others will have a well entitled opinion that differs to mine.

  • Random


    The problem – all procurement other than FMS is subject to the Government procurement philosophy, in which no individual criteria is given primacy. Thus “on time, in budget, fully operational, and fit for purpose” is one of many (9?) criteria, and given no more primacy than the other criteria – meaning that it can be trumped by marginal electorate considerations, or foreign & diplomatic considerations. Surely “on time, in budget, fully operational, and fit for purpose” should need to be filled BEFORE any other criteria. Only then would it make sense to see if the equipment procurement can be utilised to satisfy what should be subsidiary criteria.

  • Ben


    EH101 had problems in development, but is now a formidable platform. The MRH90 will work out the same. The Blackhawk was plagued with problems to start with that cost lives. Centre of gravity issues were sorted by tilting the tailrotor. Stick with the MRH90

    Can’t same the same for the Tiger. Big alarm bells should have been the Brits deciding for the licensed version of the Apache.

  • pez


    @Ben, I’m not sure I’d use British procurement decisions as any kind of ‘yard-stick’.

Comments are closed.


Each day, our subscribers are more informed with the right information.

SIGN UP to the Australian Aviation magazine for high-quality news and features for just $99.95 per year