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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Aussie Airshow Gloomy in Geelong

By Andrew Drwiega, Military Editor

As the business/trade days of the Avalon Airshow (February 26-28) give way to the excitement that always accompanies the public days (March 1-3), there has not been reciprocal excitement among rotorcraft industry exhibitors over opportunities in the Australian market. The mood matched the gloomy weather of the first few days.

While the rotorcraft market is set to grow over the next few years, as outlined by members of the newly formed Australian Helicopter Industry Association (AHIA), there are numerous factors that will influence the speed of that growth. State support for police and EMS expansion will be important, while industry and oil & gas in particular are keeping the civil market buoyant (as in many other areas globally).

Photos by Andrew Drwiega

The Federal Elections on Sept. 14, 2013 are seen as a milestone in how the defense sector will fare in coming years. With strategic tensions in the Asia-Pacific region seemingly on the rise—China/Japan; China/South China Sea territorial disputes; North Korean missile tests among the most recent—there was a common perception among industrialists that a change of government could only improve what they see as faltering decisions over ADF decision making.

From the military perspective, all those teams who have submitted bids for the Australian Defense Force (ADF) Air 9000 Phase 7 Helicopter Aircrew Training System (otherwise known as HATS) contract have more waiting to endure. The contenders are: Raytheon/Bell Helicopter, KBR/Elbit/QDS, AgustaWestland/CAE/BAE Systems, Australian Aerospace, Lockheed Martin/Bristow Helicopters, and Boeing/Thales.

HATS will provide the Australian Army and Navy with rotary wing ab initio training, combining live and synthetic instruction. A modern platform is sought to provide a better link to the ADF’s purchase of complex helicopters such as the ARH Tiger, MRH-90 and the MH-60R.

Rear Admiral Tony Dalton confirmed to Rotor & Wing that the expected finalization of the downselect teams should occur in late March or April this year, although previous estimates of this milestone have not been met. Once this happens those teams chosen, potentially up to three, will then work with the Defense Material Organization for the rest of the year in defining the contract for the award proper to be made in 2014.

Australian Aerospace is still being taken to task for its ARH Tiger still not achieving Initial Operational Capability (IOC) with the Australian Army, in spite of all 22 aircraft having been delivered. It is noted that the Army’s fielding of the MRH-90 is also behind that of the New Zealand Air Force.

Sikorsky’s Chris Clapperton, director of maritime and Asia strategies, was however very positive about the way the initial MH-60R aircraft and crews are being “worked up to capability” alongside the U.S. Navy in the United States before returning to service with the Royal Australian Navy.

Since Qinetiq came to Australia five years ago it has been reorganized from several independent companies into one that has two specializations—engineering and consulting—according to CEO Alan Woolford. The company’s expertise is increasingly called as military personnel numbers decline and specialist assistance is required to obtain value for money and to help problem solve.

(For a full show round-up see the April issue of Rotor & Wing).

Related: Airframe News

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