Defence Minsiter Stephen Smith and Defence Material Minister Jason Clare have announced that the MRH 90 helicopter project will be reviewed and that the Navy’s HMAS Manoora amphibious transport (LPA) ship will be decomissioned.
In explaining the need for a gate review for the MRH 90 program, Minister Clare noted “There’s been some issues with engine failure as well as a shortage in supplies and what that has meant that there’s been a delay in bringing that aircraft, those helicopters into service – something in the order of 12 months for Navy and 18 months for Army.
“That’s why I’m concerned enough about this project to want Defence to do a full diagnostic analysis of it, identify what can be done to remediate the project and bring it back on to schedule and have the project fully implemented as soon as possible,” Clare told media on February 1.
“It’s a very important project and part of the rigour that we need to maintain here is to make sure that Defence at the highest levels, in this case the deputy CEO of the DMO, will chair what we call a ‘gate review’ or a high level defence review, with the assistance of independent experts, to provide advice to us on what are the necessary steps for government and for Defence and for the companies responsible to make sure that this project is fully implemented as quickly as possible.”
Forty-six MRH 90s are being acquired from prime contractor Australian Aerospace under project Air 9000 to replace the Army’s Black Hawk and the Navy’s Sea King helicopters.
Meanwhile the LPA HMAS Manoora is to be decommissioned. The Manoora and her sistership HMAS Kanimbla have been tied up alongside at Fleet Base East in Sydney since late last year on an “operational pause” due to rust and reliability issues. Said Minister Smith, the Manoora is “currently in dock and on the recommendation of the Chief of Navy, it’s recommended that it be decommissioned and we’ve accepted that advice, it will be decommissioned.”
There is a possibility the Kanimbla may not re-enter service as well.
“The most recent advice which we received as late as Friday of last week was that further seaworthiness inspections had indicated further significant difficulties with the Kanimbla,” Smith said. “The current advice is that it will take until the middle of next year for those adverse findings to be rectified. So I hope that that will be the outcome but we need to take that step by step.”
With the retirement of the Manoora and issues with Kanimbla, Smith said a “new transitional arrangement” to the forthcoming LHDs, which won’t enter service until 2014-15, was needed, and that that could include the acquisition of a surplus UK Bay Class vessel as an interim measure.
“We are looking at either a lease or a purchase of a Bay Class, and I’ve already had discussions with Defence Secretary Fox and I’ll continue those discussions by phone this week,” Minister Smith said. “That is one option. What has become clear in recent weeks is that the original transition plan which was dependant upon the ongoing operational capacity of the Manoora and the Kanimbla and the Tobruk will not now be sufficient to make the transition to the new Landing Helicopter Docks.”
The ministers also announced the cancellation of the $40 million project to acquire six LCM2000 landing craft for the Manoora and Kanimbla.