The Department of Defence has begun the process of acquiring new light helicopters for Army special forces support with the release of a request for information (RFI).
“The helicopters are to be proven (already in service) commercial or military off-the-shelf, optimised for operating in dense urban environments, and capable of being rapidly deployed by air transport in ADF Boeing C-17A Globemaster III aircraft,” the RFI, released on the Australian Government’s AusTender website on Tuesday, reads.
“The helicopter should be capable of being fitted with simple, proven, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) equipment and weapons systems.”
The project is in an exploratory phase, the RFI notes, and will evaluate “a wide range of procurement options based around a light helicopter as the major system”.
The AusTender website lists a timeframe for delivery of the capability of “approximately 2023”.
A project to acquire a light helicopter for special operations support was first flagged in the 2016 Defence White Paper.
The White Paper’s accompany Integrated Investment Program detailed the need for “deployable light helicopters”, with “a new fleet of light reconnaissance and attack helicopters … acquired from around 2025 to provide air mobility support optimised for special operations missions.”
The Integrated Investment Program listed a program timeframe for the special forces helicopter as 2019-2028 with a budget range of $2-3 billion.
“The new helicopters will likely feature some light armament and modern intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and communications capabilities for integration with the joint force,” the Integrated Investment Program read.
“They will be able to be deployed rapidly as a small force element of three to four aircraft and personnel by the [C-17] Globemaster.”
The US Army’s Boeing AH-6/MH-6 Little Bird series or the Airbus Helicopters H135M (which would also bring commonality benefits with the H135s/EC 135 T2s recently acquired for Defence helicopter pilot training) or H145M could be among the types offered for the requirement.