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ANAO releases damning report into ADF MRH90 program

written by WOFA | June 26, 2014

The ANAO report into the MRH program point towards the definition phase of the project as the main cause of the delays. (NHI)
The ANAO report into the MRH program point towards the definition phase of the project as the main cause of the delays. (NHI)

The Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) has released a damning report into the acquisition and service introduction of the NHI/Australian Aerospace MRH90 helicopter which was acquired under Project AIR 9000 Phases 2, 4 & 6.

The acquisition of the MRH90 for all three phases of the project – to acquire an additional squadron of helicopters under Phase 2, to replace the S-70A-9 Black Hawks in service under Phase 4, and to replace Navy’s Sea Kings under Phase 6 – was a key component of the ADF’s Helicopter Strategic Master Plan which sought to reduce the number of helicopter types in ADF service from nine to five, and thus realise greater training, support and sustainment efficiencies.

The report into the $4 billion project revealed that the ADF’s original recommendation to buy 12 new-build Sikorsky S-70M (UH-60M) Black Hawks for Phase 2 and up to 36 new build S-70Ms (or remanufactured S-70A-9s) for Phase 4 in June 2004 was overruled by the then Howard coalition government, despite Sikorsky’s bid being significantly cheaper than Australian Aerospace’s.

The report found Defence has recommended the S-70M (UH-60M) Black Hawk over the MRH90 for Phases 2 & 4 of AIR 9000. (US Army)
The report found Defence had recommended the S-70M (UH-60M) Black Hawk over the MRH90 for Phases 2 & 4 of AIR 9000. (US Army)

The report says the Black Hawk recommendation had the support of the Secretary for Defence, the Chief of the Defence Force, the Chief of CDG, the CEO of the DMO, the Chief of Army, and the Chief of Air Force. It said Defence’s recommendation was based on the Black Hawk’s cost advantage, its robust construction, ballistic protection and crashworthiness.

But Defence had also found that the MRH90 would also meet the capability requirement – it considered that it was better marinised for amphibious operations, and that Australian Aerospace’s bid had Australian industry capability advantages.

The report highlights “program development deficiencies and acquisition decisions during the period 2002 to 2006” as the primary causes of the difficulties experienced by the MRH90 program. It says that period included “requirements definition, the source selection process and the establishment of acquisition and sustainment contracts”, and that these crucial stages of program development were not appropriately performed, leading to “serious and potentially long‑term consequences for capability delivery and Commonwealth expenditure.” It said the the maturity of the MRH90 and S-70M Black Hawk aircraft designs had not been properly assessed.

With the acquisition of MRH90, the S-70A-9 Black Hawk fleet which was built in the 1980s was to have been withdrawn between January 2011 and December 2013. But the withdrawal didn’t commence until January 2014, and is now not scheduled to be completed until June 2018. The original project schedule called for Final Operational Capability (FOC) of 46 MRH90s to be achieved in July 2014, but this now not expected to be realised until April 2019, a delay of nearly five years.


The report says the extended concurrent operations of both the Black Hawk and MRH90 fleets has led to “significant problems for funding of Army aviation” leading to likely “compromises to levels of capability,” and also identifies the capability gap experienced by Navy since its Sea Kings were retired in 2011.

Some positives from the report include the results from a series of trials conducted aboard HMAS Choules in 2012 which showed the MRH90 has impressive handling over the deck and showed considerable potential for embarked operations. Defence says the MRH90 has shown that it has the “potential to offer greater capability in some areas than the Black Hawk and the Sea King,” and that “Defence continues to adjust operational tactics, techniques and procedures to account for the differences between the platforms.”

The report says that by March 2014 more than $2.4 billion had been spent on the program, and that 27 MRH90s had been delivered. It highlighted that the program was running more than four years behind schedule, with the first operational capability milestones for both the Army and the Navy yet to be achieved.

It said “considerable work remains to implement and verify some design changes, and to adjust operational tactics, techniques and procedures, in order to develop an adequate multi‑role helicopter capability for Army and Navy operations.” These design changes include the self-defence gun system, cabin seating and cargo hook, all of which needed to “overcome significant operational deficiencies.” It said operational test and evaluation was yet to validate any of the 11 operational capability milestones set by the Army and Navy.

The report can be read here.



  • Darren


    Not a great report into this aircraft. I remember talking with some Sea King people and they were not happy the MRH90 had manual fold rotors, something that seemed to have been over looked.

    I can only hope that the powers that be take heed of these types of reports and the errors, mistakes, misjudgments and seek to avoid them in the future. A lot of time, money and effort in a tight fiscal environment has been wasted,

    Personally I liked the Blackhawk, and now we have the MH-60R commonality would have been better with the MH-60S and UH-60M.

  • Raymond


    This makes the MH-60R acquisition seem like a walk in the park in comparison.

  • Glen


    This shows what a poor choice the NH90 . Lots of people here in NZ who work for a certain gov department also wonder why did they chose the NH90 when the MH60R is a much better and cheaper choice. The RNZAF only bought 9 just not enough helicopters to be any use.

  • Daniel


    Lessons were not learnt afte Seasprite- we now have Landsprite! Still can’t understand how this hasn’t been turned off! UH-60M helo’s would have been operational yrs ago. We aren’t a big enough country not to buy off the shelf!! C-17, UH-60R, Super Hornet & soon to arrive CH-47F are examples of what we should be doing! Not wasting copious amounts of taxpayers money and go backwards in capability!!

  • Jordan


    Navy have reached the milestones ahead of time. Army are the ones holding this project back.

  • Tony


    I am really not surprised.
    I spend 18 years working with Army Aviation and on many different aircraft types.
    I’ve seen so many clusters covered up and swept under the carpet by so called experts sticking their noses into places they have little or no knowledge about. As I was told by a Lieutenant Coronel, long as we look like a duck on a pond, graceful on top where everyone can see, who cares what’s happening underneath.

  • Dale


    It’s a shame that our defence force has no idea on how to read contracts. If a company cannot provide before a deadline we should start deducting money…but no…we say oh it’s ok mate, have another couple of million and another couple of years. Our decision makers are a joke. The Blackhawk upgrade would’ve been a better cheaper option for our small defence force. And don’t get me started on the useless Tigers.

  • Fishy


    At least they look tough. That’s important too I think.

    What other colours do they come in?

    Do you think it’s worth me keeping an eye on the Trading Post for a good second-hand Blackhawk? ‘Only two owners (some are ex-RAAF!!). Well looked after and regularly serviced’

  • BluenGreen


    Having flown both types I would suggest that the MRH90 is the superior aircraft, or at least will be when many of the relatively minor issues are sorted out by Industry. Manual blade fold works pretty well, the cabin is much bigger and very adaptable, the mission systems (FLIR, ESM, TopOwl) have some issues but are still very useful. There is no doubting the immaturity of the aircraft at the point of acquisition, but many of the perceived problems are also due to Defence being bloody minded and risk averse. Industry appears to have solutions to most issues (floors, gun location) but they rely on Defence being prepared to accept those solutions – solutions which many of the overseas customers will accept. The risk factors inherent in the MRH90 certification baseline are much less than the Blackhawks, or indeed the Romeo coming in to service. As a side issue, not sure where a standalone fleet of SH60R fits into the plan to reduce types…NH90 NFH may have been strategically wiser? Standing by for the incredulous gasps from the uninformed.

  • peter


    Someone is making some money out of this!

  • Bushranger 71


    A hell of an indictment of Australian defence capabilities planning since about Year 2000.

    Australia had a sound military helo fleet of Kiowa, Iroquois, Blackhawk, Chinook, Sea King, Seahawk and potentially Seasprite. There were ongoing manufacturer upgrade programs for all types which were/are being employed operationally around the world by other nations (Both Sea King and Iroquois Huey II in Afghanistan on behalf of the US State Department).

    Military helo roles and operating characteristics for Australia’s needs were crysallized by Vietnam War involvement and especially extensive operations throughout the neighbouring rugged regional wet tropics; yet those in Canberra have failed absolutely to heed this hard-earned knowledge.

    The illogical ADF Helicopter Strategic Master Plan continues to degrade regional military capabilities the further it progresses. Kiowa, Iroquois, Blackhawk, Sea King, Seahawk could all have been very cost-effectively optimized and Seasprites have been acquired by NZ for a song, fully refurbished and restored to manufacturer design configuration.

    Unit cost of just one MRH90 is around $65million whereas 25 Hotel model Iroquois could have been upgraded to Huey II for about $50million and beat the pants off anything else for hot and high performance, field supportability, operating cost below $5K per flying hour and of course easy C-130 deployability.

    The MH-60R is so stuffed full of occasional use systems that it will not have adequate utility performance for boarding party roles. It was a totally unnecessary acquisition considering Seahawks could have been optimized and the reconfigured Seasprite would have been very adequate for ASW and ASuW.

    We have always had need for a flight refuellable helo capability which was thwarted when Army pushed for the Chinook in lieu of Sikorsky HH-53. Since then, there seems no thought given to combat SAR, covert submarine support for medical or special operations requirements nor providing a rescue capability within much of Australia’s vast area of international SAR responsibility. We have just given C-130H away which could have been converted for probe and drogue tankering.

    At a rough guess, around $10billion has been needlessly squandered and helo force operating costs are going to soar exponentially. Capabilities planning in Canberra is simply inept.

  • Phil Thee


    Sweden has bought a helicopter very similar to our MRH, but when faced with an Afghanistan deployment, ended up having to buy some Mike model Blackhawks (a purpose built battlefield helicopter) to do the job, as we surely will if we need to use helicopters in a real war zone. The Swedish Blackhawks took 100 weeks between contract signing and first delivery. The MRH will be over 250 weeks late and still unsuitable for some tasks!

  • The Road Runner


    I am with you BluenGreen, the MRH90 is superb helicopter for the ADF.
    As with all new cutting edge equipment ,it takes time to iron out the bugs ,but once the challenges have been overcome we will have a wonderful helicopter that will serve the ADF well.
    Having seen a MRH90 up and close during the Royal fleet review ,they do look pretty schmick !

    If i re call right when the Blackhawks were first purchased, the public and press rode them off as a dog.
    Come to think about it ,the public and press always ride off cutting edge equipment when it enters service into the ADF. F-111 was seen as a dud when first purchased and the public were calling for the F-4 to be bought.

    Fast forward to now we have the same story , buy F-18 over JSF , buy Blackhawk over MRH90.

  • alison


    The MRH90 is known as a career destroyer for any flight crew unlucky enough to be attached to these squadrons. On the last two missions crews have been unable to perform their duties. Stranded without parts in remote locations or stuck on the back of a ship and cannot be repaired until it reaches home dock and can be removed with a crane. A tour of duty to last up to 12 months aborted in about 12 weeks. The persistent problems were known 5-7 years ago. Though overdue and not fit for the purpose, the Defence Department will honor contracts instead of cutting their losses. Go figure. At least the Auditor General is asking questions at last.

  • Topflight


    MRH is a very capable aircraft. There’s no doubting it’s ability as an all weather aircraft, but it’s not a battlefield aircraft, nor was it designed to be originally. I agree that any new aircraft is going to have teething problems when new, but there are some fundamental design flaws that make it unsuitable as a BlackHawk replacement.

    A helicopter is most vulnerable from ground fire, when on the ground and in its current configuration the Aircrewman needs to move out of the way to let pax disembark, and is therefore not ‘on the gun’? Yes, solutions have been presented, but they are far from a quick fix, needing a lot of engineering to make it happen.

    But the biggest flaw in my eyes is that it isn’t as air transportable. The ADF’s best strategic lift asset is the C17. You can fit three Black Hawks inside. At best you’d only fit two MRH, but I’ve never seen more than one inside?

    For most of the ADFs domestic training needs MRH will probably scrape by, but we should be buying aircraft based on operational needs. Only time will tell now and I would like to be proved wrong. I’m just not I am?…..

  • Dion


    I work for AA and at the very least this has created over 200 jobs for aussies and will do so for at least another 4 yrs. nh90 is heaps better than the black hawks, cost more to manafacture than blackhawks but cheaper for replacement parts and thru life support than the blackhawk and is ALOT BETTER for crashworthy than the blackhawks so you have a better chance of survival … Seems like alot of you commenting would rather give the yanks more money than keep aussie and kiwi JOBS.

  • Dion


    Oh and unit cost is only $38 million not $65million

  • Torque Split


    A thorough review of the ANAO report reveals a sorry saga that could have been avoided early on with more robust analysis of risk, better leadership and less political influence. Given the laboured introduction into service of the MRH-90 Taipan, the sterling performance of the UH-60M in Iraq/Afghanistan and the Australian Navy’s choice to adopt the MH-60R it is clear that the Australian Defence Organisation (ADO) probably made the wrong decision with respect of the MRH-90 vs UH-60M.

    Despite this, given that 27 MRH-90s have been delivered out of the total of 47 it is probably far too late for the Army to back out of the program. But it might not be too late for the Navy to do so. The Navy still has 16 ‘Classic’ Seahawks that have an average of 5000 flying hours on each airframe. Perhaps consideration should be given to returning the six Navy MRH-90’s to the Army and reducing the total ADF MRH-90 purchase to 41 airframes and handing over 8 to 10 ‘Classic’ Seahawks to 808 SQN for the Maritime Support Helicopter (MSH) role as the MH-60R comes into service? A ‘Classic’ Seahawk in ‘truck fit’ that retains the EWSP and EO would be able to perform the MSH role from day one and allow the Navy to have an ALL Seahawk fleet with the training and logistic synergies that will bring. A decision could be made later on regarding the acquisition of small number of MH-60S or MH-60R (in ‘truck fit’) as the ‘Classic’ Seahawks age and experience is gained in the MH-60R platform.

    Other nations have reduced their purchase of the NH-90 for various reasons and it is clear that the ADO has a sound justification to reduce the number of airframes purchased. Since the ‘Classic’ Seahawk is going out of service over the next two or three years it will be necessary for a quick decision to be made if the ‘Classic’ Seahawk was to assume the MSH role. There is nothing new with this concept since this is exactly what happened with the Sea King when it gave up the dipping ASW role as the Seahawk came into service in the early 90s. The wheel does keep turning.

    Army Aviation probably faces a similar choice with the SF mission that is currently undertaken by the S-70A-9 ‘Classic’ Black Hawk. The acquisition of a small fleet (16?) of UH-60M Black Hawk or MH-60S Knighthawk (marinised, automatic blade fold and Hellfire etc) might not be such a bad idea – stand fast budget constraints.

    Food for thought.

  • William


    How is the MRH more crash worthy than a Blackhawk? The MRH is held together by glue and resin! Look at the video on YouTube where they pilots crash into the lake;it disintegrates on impact. At least with a Blackhawk the cockpit and cabin sections would largely stay as one piece.

    As for battlefield survivability, all its fuel cells are under the floor leaving them exposed to gun fire. The floor still hasn’t been fixed, and the ramp is a joke given its lack of ground clearance. You can’t fly the fast approach like you can in a Blackhawk meaning you’re exposed for longer while approaching an LZ.

    It would make an excellent SAR platform for the LHD and maybe even for fast jet pilot recovery within Australia, but that’s probably about it.

  • Darren


    The article showcases a poor performing aircraft and contractor. The contractor should fix the aircraft now, no if’s, no buts. Defence should be able to purchase what is best suited operationally. If there is a desire for an aircraft at the “cutting edge” but is not a mature aircraft then weight must be given to the likely in service date, not the optimistic contractor assurances. You can only guess how long it will take to fix something you don’t yet know about. And that is the fundamental difference here. MRH90 was newer and offered advantages in some areas over the established and proven UH-60M. The NFH is still in development, a protracted development that is continuing. I believe the government was not interested in the risk in selecting the MH-60R and hang the commonality issue. It worked straight out of the box like the C-17 and F/A-18F. And given the issues known with the MRH90 you would be in for a hard sell to get someone to buy more of an under performer. The argument is are we willing to wait for and pay additional for a developmental aircraft to potentially realise a gain, or accept something 90% that is in service ready to go? However for me the reality of whole of approach has been lost. Given the maritime environment push with the LHD we needed MH-60R; MH-60S; MH-53E/K; AH-1Z. Aside from training there’s just four types, with two very similar. Off course you could get some UH-60M’s, but again, very similar to two others. And they work!

    • australianaviation.com.au


      Just a reminder everyone – the UH-60M was neither established nor proven in 2004 when the first batch of MRHs was ordered – despite the UH-60M being based on the familiar Black Hawk, both were considered developmental aircraft.

      The original plan for the UH-60M was to remanufacture the US Army’s UH-60A/Ls into Ms (hence the recommendation to reman our S-70As), but this was changed to a new build program around 2006 or so once it was realised there were few advantages in taking the remanufacturing route.



  • Wayne


    Our partners fly the UH-60M [and AH-64]. Singapore and Indonesia are buying Apaches – we buy Tigers and MRH90’s. The latest Navy News refers to cross decking with US forces and how we can support each other. Hello, how many MRH90’s do the US have…?

    I read the report and must say that it smacks of a set-up for the champagne brigade. Ordering the first 12 MRH90’s without most of the support gear that is needed. Please explain!

    The OTS buys have gone very well indeed. The hybrid types [eg. Seasprite SH-2G[A] a failure. The Poles, Egyptians and now NZ successfully operate a type we can’t..

    The corrosion issue that is solved by the MRH90 is a failure looking at the report and the Dutch NFH90 naval birds have had big corrosion problem. Our Navy needs MH-60S Knighthawks for Vertrep etc and or rebuilt utility versions of our low time Sea Hawks.

    Anyway the taxpayers and politicians will be seduced into paying out millions for a few jobs. Half of those at least could be used to provide depot support ongoing for the Sikorsky fleet..

  • Martin


    I offer the suggestion that it is time that Jim Thorn releases a revision of his 2011 book “Off Target”. I think some of his predictions have not panned out as he may have hoped.

    The article indicates the ADF’s original recommendation was to buy Sikorsky S-70M and S-70Ms but that this was overruled by the Howard government. If that is the case, I hope the Defence bureaucracy doesn’t draw all the flack yet again, only that part which it might deserve. At the start of a project being optimistic the contractor will give Defence what is needed and on schedule seems to be nothing new… and then the reality hits. Read the recent Australian Aviation article re Canadian problems with their (Sikorsky) helicopter acquisition project.

    A few comments on other posts:

    Daniel: Why do you consider the MRH-90 as not being “off the shelf”? It essentially is. In any case, off the shelf doesn’t mean there will be no problems. That is only the case once a design has been in service for a fair number of years and the bugs have been overcome by the bitter experience of another defence force. C-17 had a troubled early life for example, it is just that Defence bought them “off the shelf” when they had matured. C130J had snags even though it was based on an otherwise ‘proven’ concept.

    Bushranger 71: If you think flight refuellable helo capability is required by ADF, remember that some Chinook variants have such a capability! Indeed, I think for the combat SAR role!! Not sure where it might be required except some ops far into hostile territory, not an everyday ADF helicopter operation I woulod have thought? Our Chinooks have been operational in Afganistan without such a capability. I have no idea of how often it may have been useful for them. For peacetime SAR ops, Australia now has a good supply drop capability from fixed wing aircraft and civil shipping is always diverted to any SAR efforts to assist with rescue far offshore. This seems like a reasonable capability?

  • stuart


    some here have selective memories about the blackhawk and a leaning to all things american …. having said that nh=90 is another example of a long winded project that started life in the cold war ,, and now 20 yrs on is more a product of bureaucracy… then an actual system develop for the military to go to war in ……

  • stuart


    it is sad just how inept & complacent western governments have become in the last 10 to 15 yrs …

  • Dagney J Taggart


    Hi Dion,

    not sure how you can claim that replacement parts and through life support for the MRH are cheaper than the Blackhawk. One example given in the ANAO report (on page 193) show that a wheel locking pin for the Tiger ARH is 5,783 Euro, compared to $9.67 for a Blackhawk okay, not an MRH, but from the same stable). That’s 3 orders of magnitude difference. Further, the ANAO report states on page 119 that the MRH was estimated to cost $75 million more per year than the Blackhawk to support (so that’s $135 million vs $70 million).

    Have a look at Appendix 6 – there is a price list of parts for the MRH. A set of two sniper bars is 25,084 EUR in 2005 prices. After you include inflation (say, 3% per year for 9 years) and today’s exchange rate (0.69), you get around $46,000. That’s $23,000 each. Have a look at figure 3.4 on page 139 to see exactly what a sniper bar is. Doesn’t look like much for $23,000, does it?

    It’s a bit like your eccentric uncle’s Peugeot – quirky, complex, indicator stick is on the wrong side of the steering wheel (but he’s used to that now), is great when it runs but is expensive and tricky to fix.

    • australianaviation.com.au


      One thing not spoken of so far is that the Euro to $A exchange rate has remained pretty constant since the MRH was ordered, whereas the US$ to $A rate has almost doubled, so the price we were quoted for Black Hawks in 2004 (at roughly 55c in the dollar) would not be the price we are buying them for today.



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