Airbus bolsters MRH 90 support at Townsville

Airbus Group Australia Pacific has placed 35 additional maintenance personnel in Townsville to support the Army’s operation of the MRH 90 trooplift helicopter.

“Availability is the challenge for MRH 90 and we at our expense have placed 35 additional people into Townsville at the start of this year to improve the availability,” Airbus Group Australia Pacific managing director Tony Fraser told media in Canberra on Tuesday.

“That makes a total of 41 [personnel] at company expense in Townsville, and that enables Defence to focus on maintaining the aircraft but also preparing for combat operations … and all the training activities that go with that, and [with] industry being able to provide a baseline level of availability of the aircraft.”

The Army and Navy have taken delivery of 45 of the 47 MRH 90 helicopters on order to replace the Army’s S-70A Black Hawks and the Navy’s now-retired Sea King. The first MRH 90s entered service in 2007 but the helicopter has struggled with technical immaturity and poor availability rates, with the program placed on Defence’s ‘projects of concern’ list in 2011 and then subject to a critical Australian National Audit Office report released in 2014.

With technical issues largely resolved Airbus Group Australia Pacific expects to hand over the final two MRH 90s in the August timeframe.

The MRH 90’s performance, Fraser said, is “exceptional”.

Instead, “The challenge for us is making sure that the cabin and utility equipment met the expectations of the troops, and we are a long way advanced in doing that.”

Fraser is an experienced Army helicopter pilot who retired from the service in 2011 as a Major General when he was Head Helicopter Systems Division within the then Defence Materiel Organisation.

“The primary challenge for MRH … is around the maintenance workload of a relatively new aircraft. So what we’ve done is to mitigate that maintenance workload by placing those personnel in,” Fraser continued.

“They cover everything from fleet planning, management, spares … and to providing some technical support in the unit”.

Fraser said Airbus expects to reduce the number of maintenance personnel at Townsville in time, “as we reduce the maintenance burden on the aircraft and on the unit.”

He expects some form of ongoing industry support to MRH 90 operations at Townsville, “but at the moment it is a commitment for two years and whilst we review the status for those.”


  1. says

    I figure that the “at our expense” can come out of the excessive price already paid for these machines to Airbus. Its 2017,..ten years on,…and yet,..still yet,…..we’re still on the road to FOC? Jeezes.

  2. Andrew64 says

    Does anyone know if there are there any firm plans to phase out the Black Hawks or will we run the two fleets together as “insurance” for the foreseeable future??

  3. Mick181 says

    Andrew i believe the Blackhawks are being phased out from around 2020, as the MRH-90s qualify for the SOCOMD role.

  4. says

    Come on guys Air Bus generates money within Australia , so yeah if you want your kid to have a job then back these guys , i know the UH-60S and its good , but it is no money shaker so if the Bible is good and you you have done your Forty miles to Baton Rouge yeah , suck it up .

  5. Adzzaman says

    Why have they only had 6 staff up until now? Maybe they should have had 41 staff available in the first 10 years. As usual it seems a little backwards…

  6. Black Hawk fan says

    MRH 90 will not go to Sydney for SF role. It would put SF years behind where they are now. Look how long it is taking to get airmobile kind of capable. Start all over again with developing SOPs for SF. They can’t keep extending the S70 waiting for this junk to catch up. I think you will see an FMS case of a proven platform soon, whether it be a light utility to line with the white paper or, fingers crossed, UH 60M or even pave hawk. We can only hope.

    I am all for jobs in Australia but defence should be looked to for a capability not to pump money into the economy. Right as we stand now, do we have a battlefield airlift capability? Not even close. Lets hope we don’t need one before this junk is ready.

    And lets make sure someone remembers this and the ARH disaster the next aquisition. FMS for the win.

  7. G4george says

    My father said the DMO was at fault for poor equipment acquisition back when he was in the RAAF 40 years ago, nothing has changed apparently.

  8. Corey D says

    The ADF/Army are working with the French special forces to co-design and co-develope an NH90 TTH cabin for the special forces roles. The ADF should buy an additional 8 for the Navy along with 24 for the Special Forces Roles so they’ve got their own fleets. We should also be looking at additional CH-47Fs and even the MV-22 for some roles within the SASR and Commando Regiments. NHI should be looking at upgrading and improving the chopper, increasing range, payload etc.

  9. Mick181 says

    Black Hawk Fan

    Last I’ve heard, 20 Blackhawks are being retained to 20-21 to support SOCOMD,while the MRH-90 is being brought up to standard for that role and sometime in the 20s SOCOMD will get a light specialist Helo, something like the AH-6 Little Bird. Army does not req 40 MRH-90s to man 5 Avn regt & trg, so that leaves the 6 Avn Regt requirement currently covered by the Blackhawks. If SOCOMD doesnt want the 90s and want new Blackhawks instead they need to be ordered now, i get the feeling SOCOMD will be stuck with 90s like or lump it.

    Sometime in the 20s Australia will get 3 new Helo types to carry out more specialist missions, the SF light Helo(AH-6 or Airbus 145s?) a CSAR LR capability(CV-22?) also a replacement for the Tiger is due by 2025 (Apache E?) so there may not be an appetite for yet another new Helo, with the new Light Helo comming how important does SOCOMD regard a like for like replacement for the Blackhawk?. At present there is no plan in the DWP for a Blackhawk replacement other than the 90s and later the Light Helo, so to get UH-60s or even Pave Hawk something else would have to be dropped.

  10. Fabian says

    here could be a plan for the replacements of the black hawk and the ARH tiger.
    get the AH-1Z viper for replacing the tiger and get the counterpart of the viper, the UH-1Y venom, its a medium tactical/utility helicopter. the bell 212 ( a similar helicopter of the venom) is already in service with the Canadians in a SF role. the good thing about the venom is that it is able to do a light CAS run if the SASR need it. the advantage is that the AH-1Z and the UH-1Y venom share a 80% same parts between the 2 airframes so that slashes costs by a lot and yet still have a better capability than the tiger. and even cooler, these helicopters can land on the Canberra class vessel because of their salt/humid resistance airframes. also MV-22s or additional chinooks would greatly increase the battlefield airlift and heavy lift capability. the pave hawks or UH-60Ms does seem like a great idea considering our experience already with S70 black hawk.

  11. Black Hawk fan says


    It all looks great on paper. But the MRH will not be ready for SF role by the time the S70 reaches it’s definate end date. They have pushed it out by 7 years already and it can’t go any further. I agree the decision needs to be made now. And I am sure this conversation would be happening in Canberra now (probably already has). A rapid acquisition of mikes or pave hawks could be delivered and with a quick transition course for maintainers and flyers have same or better capability. And, in all seriousness, probably cheaper and quicker than modding some MRH and transitioning S70 guys to MRH. 10 years and look where it is…

    I doubt apache for tiger replacement, it would be nice but what are the ramifications of littoral operations? I don’t know of any apache operators that use them for ship born ops which will be essential for the tiger replacement.

    Fabian has nailed it. Run army aviation similar to the USMC. Commonality is key, especially for ship ops.

    My opinion anyways. I’m sure there are guys that agree with me and many that don’t.

  12. Jasonp says

    The right guy is in charge at Airbus now, he has skin in this game and will ensure MRH (and ARH) is fixed.

    Lets be clear, while the MRH might not be able to conduct an assault landing like a Blackhawk can, the reason for the crawl walk run development process is due to us not being in a high intensity conflict at the moment so there is no immediate operational imperative. If such a conflict were to kick off, resources would be added and waivers would be signed, and it would probably perform well in most roles.

  13. Mick181 says

    Blackhawk Fan
    The British have used Apaches off the HMS Ocean and even the US Army trialled Apaches off USN Amphibs in 2014. I don’t disagree that new Blackhawks would probably be better for SOCOMD but until i see some ordered or hear of an announcement about the future of the Blackhawk fleet i can only go on what i have heard. I’m sorry mate, i realise you are a huge fan of the Blackhawk but there is no evidence in the public media for Australia buying more Blackhawks.
    How big a factor does operating off the LHDs factor into the next ARH purchase? It’s only 1 part of the puzzle not the be all and end all. The Australian Army is not a Marine Corps and the LHDs are only 1 part of the overhaul picture, first and foremost the Army will be looking at what is the best Recce Helo to do the job, then they will worry about whether it will operate off LHDs and there is no reason to believe they can’t fly off tbe Canberra’s.

  14. says

    It was a mistake to purchase both the ARH and MRH platforms. As a small defence force, Australia doesn’t have the budget or time to sustain the development of these aircraft. Australian Army Aviation operational capability is barely existent. (Apart from Chinooks)
    The Blackhawks are getting tired, ARH and MRH are bumbling along. Yes, Airbus are working on the issues with the aircraft but there comes a time when enough is enough. Why waste money on trying to make the aircraft work, when you can go buy something that is proven and operating in the battlefield.

    The smart move would be a rapid acquisition of “Off the Shelf Helicopters”. Great examples of this type of acquisition are the Super Hornet, C-17, F Model Chinooks, and Romeo Model Seahawks.
    The politicians need to step up and make a decision. It won’t be popular one but in the long term it will save money and the Australian Army will have a capability it deserves.

  15. Richard says

    Casual Observer- 100% correct.

    These Airbus Helicopters have been a dead loss from day 1 compared to what was available from the US. Surely that is self evident.

    Does anyone disagree and, if so, why?

  16. Black Hawk fan says


    I don’t want to be rude but that is the worst excuse i have heard. Mentality like that is why AA was never held to account! Just waiver it… or we could get something that actually works and hold the company to account for the years behind that they are? SF can not allow a capability gap for TAG. And they will if MRH is sent down there. Period.


    With the money we paid for the LHDs, I don’t think any acquisition will get signed off unless it has words to the effect of ‘littoral operations’ in one of its primary capabilities. Again thats my opinion.

    I can guarantee when 2 years is up and the army is used to having those 35 extra personnel (and probably won’t be able to operate without them). Airbus will gladly keep them on, at a hefty price and make back all the money they out laid from their pocket.

    Hindsight is a wonderful thing. I am sitting here hoping someone has the balls to bite the bullet and bury this money pit before we are having this discussion again in 2 years.

  17. BJ says

    As covered in other publications, the Army is already getting pricing and FMS details sorted for 24 x AH-64E’s to replace the rubbish ARH.

    SOCOMD has stated time and again the MRH is unsuitable, and just as army made the big call to dump ARH early, so will the call be made to dump the MRH.

    Similar excuses will be made, and then 12 MH-60S for the RAN, 18 MH-60G’s for SOCOMD and 40 x UH-60M for 5 Avn Reg. They will look to offload the entire ARH and MRH fleet to partly offset cost, either to a European country (Poland and Romania have been mentioned), or possibly Malaysia as a replacement for their Nuri’s. The old S-70’s will then be used as procedure and maintenance trainers.

    Proven capability plus on time delivery via FMS will seal the deal. Just a shame we wasted the time and money on these two rubbish platforms, all to sustain 100 jobs at Pinkenba.

  18. Hayden.R says

    would it be viable for navy to buy NFH models to replace the TTH fleet which can be sent to the army?

  19. Mick181 says

    BJ, I and others on here keep a very close eye on these sort of things and i haven’t seen any publications making any such claims. The list you have given us would cost Australia $10b + where is that money comming from? considering that all major projects have been costed for the next decade and the only one on your list in that costing is a possible Tiger replacement. The money for a new fleet of some 60 odd Blackhawks would have to be found outside of the current DWP costing. The amount we would get back by selling the MRH & ARH would make little dent on the cost.
    Yes i can see Australia buying 24 Apache Es and i could see SOCOMD getting a small fleet of 6-10 Spec ops Blackhawks but i think 5 Avn regt is stuck with its MRH-90s till maybe the early 2030s.
    To replace the MRH-90 at this stage would mean Army giving up something, the desperately needed Land 400 Vehicles perhaps, can’t see that happening.

  20. Fabian says

    The only option the government has is get helicopters that are cheap and meet the army requirements. Here are the options:
    Tiger replacement: Apache or AH-1Z Zulu
    SF helicopter: AH-6 little bird, H145s, UH-1Y venom, UH-60m black hawk

    Anyone got any suggestions?

  21. Corey D says

    Has everyone forgotten that the MRH90 and ARH Tiger are BRAND NEW helicopters! Are you forgetting how long it takes to not only design, develops and built a brand new helicopter? It takes years and years along with millions if not billions to do all this. I get there are issues and AIRBUS/NH Industries should have provided better and greater technical and service support. However, our government have placed in the contract that the aircraft meet all the requirements in the specified time frame and if they went met then Airbus/NH Industries paid a penalty of a set amount until they were met. I get the frustration we all do but to be saying should have just gotten the S-70is and Apache are just trash talk. Yes, they need to learn from the past mistakes and keep moving forward. I do however think our Defense capability should be increased. The purchase of the UH-60 Pave Hawk isn’t a bad idea however how much money have we spent on the MRH90 SF version? Do we have the funds to buy the Pavehawks? Do we have the money and capability to either convert our existing C-130Js into KC-130Js or buy a new fleet? Are there plans to buy the A400M replacing the C-130 fleet giving us greater flexibility and capability? Unless the ADF and Government can answer these questions then sticking with the MRH90 for the SF will have to do.

    If we did end up buying a fleet of 24 Pavehawks what models should we buy the MH-60Gs or the HH-60Ws?

  22. Richard says

    BJ – I hope so but what you say sounds too sensible to be true. On the other hand the RAN got to the stage with the Seasprites where enough was enough.

    Mick181 -Land 400! I am afraid that the Army has a history of mucking up when it comes to vehicles and now it seems aircraft.

    Why on earth would you buy a Mercedes 4×4 for the Army in Aust today? Have the people who make these decisions been west of Canberra? How about purchasing the Land Rovers in the early 80s by which time Jap 4x4s had cleaned up the off road market. The list could go on.

    I remember the brilliant idea from the 60’s to take the 76mm guns off the Saladins, put them on the APC’s and hey presto an armoured support vehicle. Unfortunately the APCs tended to capsize when the guns were fired to the left or right when the APCs were swimming.

    I know there is too much politics in all of these things but maybe the RAAF should control decision making re everything which flys.

  23. BJ says

    Mick181, the 18 MH-60G’s cost would be covered under the already announced SOCOMD helicopter funding, while the 24 AH-64E’s cost would be covered by the money already costed for the ARH mid life update that’s been canned. There were already talks under way about the navy getting 12 MH-60S to provide enough airframes for the LHD’s, new AORs and HMAS Choules and have maximum commonality with the MH-60R, with the army taking the 6 MRH90 navy airframes.

    That leaves 40-46 UH-60M to finance… around A$50 million per airframe, total cost including spares,training and support is around $A3 Billion. selling both ARH and MRH fleets at $25 million each (less than half the cost of a new airframe) plus spares would get us close to recouping half of that A$3billion.

    If you honestly don’t believe their are people right now advocating to go to the battle tested and excellent Blackhawks and dump the Airbus rubbish for $1-2 billion, you are kidding yourself! However I do agree that of all the options, 5Avn being stuck with the second rate MRH is certainly possible

  24. Derrick says

    Both airframes are due for replacement in 2030, just in just in time for the US future lift program. Yes the DoD and DMO should have gone with an off the shelf product, but we’re stuck with what we have and somehow have to make it work..

  25. Mick181 says

    BJ, SOCOMDs current req is for a light Helo ie : AH-6 little Bird in your scenario what happens to this req if we get Blackhawks instead? This is the 1st time i have ever heard anything on the Navy getting MH-60s Helos, it was not in the White paper or accompanying cost paperwork, so now we are out to 30 new hawks, thats $5-6b thats got to be taken from somewhere. The Tiger replacement is due about 20-25 but i have heard it could happen earlier, that is a possibility.
    It all comes down to what is the Armys major priority right now Land 400, new Helos, new AD systems?

  26. Corey D says

    Let’s all agree that the ADF need more money than they currently get, They need more people and the need additional equipment whether it’s additional ships, vehicles, aircraft or weapons. On another note, the Army brass need a Bunnings gift card to buy some cement and harden up all because they want an external safety on the new side arm. Just bite the bullet and order the Glock 17 and 19M models with Surefire X300 or the X400U weapon lights/lasers. The UK, NZ, US Marines along with many other allies use the Glocks plus they could include the ABF and AFP in the order further reducing costs.

  27. Fabian says

    Corey D
    agreed, the ADF is great right now but the government needs to take a step further in the quantity of equipment. eg. aircraft, ships, tanks, armoured vehicles. and yes glocks would be nice right now. but anyway back to helicopters.
    replacing the tigers could be earlier than the 20-25 time frame but I highly doubt it because right now we are focusing highly on the F-35s, P-8s, AWD, ship building and so on. although I really hope the army would just hurry up and replace the tiger with the apache or viper already.

  28. Corey D says

    Oh, also what choppers are going to be used on the new supply vessels? Is the RAN going to buy additional MRH90s or will they buy 3 H225s or something in that class?

  29. Mick181 says

    Corey the same Choppers used,on the current supply vessels, we currently have 2 supply vessels each has a Chopper allocated when it goes to Sea, we are getting 2 new ships, so status quo. It will be a MRH-90 each taken out of the Sqn on a req basis.

  30. BJ says


    You are correct with the CURRENT AOR ships- they both carry 1 helo each. The new supply ships are equipped to and meant to carry two helos each. The navy is also unhappy with being able to only assign 2 MRH-90s to the LHD’s. HMAS Choules is meant to carry a helo as well. Its a well known fact the Navy doesn’t have enough utility helos for the ships it has and the new AORs.

    And the SOCOMD requirement is for a Blackhawk replacement and a light helo to supplement the Blackhawks. AH-6i is believed to be a favoured option, but the H135 may be considered as well

  31. Mick181 says

    My claims are based on last years Defence White Paper (DWP) and i have not seen anything yet from Govt or Defence which contradicts the DWP. The current SOCOMD Blackhawks which are currently due to leave service around 2020 and are being replaced by MRH-90s, even if we were to order new Blackhawks today it would be to late for FOC by 2020.

    The entire issue of a change to current Helicopter purchases is that the entire budget is costed for every project over $20m out to 2026. So any move to get special Blackhawks or more naval support Helicopters means that the ADF has to rejig their entire Budget. The Navy & SOCOMD may have tried 12 months ago to get there way, it appers they failed. People are going on & on about New Blackhawks, there is nothing in the public domain suggesting we are and it contradicts the DWP and the accompanying Integrated Investment Program (IIP).

    If anyone has information otherwise can you please direct me to a Credible site.