Babcock has down-selected the Bell 429 aircraft in its bid for the LAND 2097 Phase 4 Project to support the Australian Defence Force’s Special Operations helicopter capability, writes Stephen Kuper from Australian Aviation’s sister publication, Defence Connect.
The combination of Babcock and Bell brings together one of the world’s largest and most experienced helicopter operators and the largest commercial operator in Australia.
As part of its down-select process, Babcock completed a comprehensive assessment of the platforms available in order to provide the most capable, low-risk solution for Australia’s special operations community.
Babcock Australasia’s managing director – land, Graeme Nayler, explained to Defence Connect that the Bell 429 Global Ranger was assessed to be the most suitable helicopter in response to the evolving needs of the ADF.
“The Bell 429 has a relatively new paramilitary design, with high levels of safety, role flexibility and performance that will meet the demands of Australian Special Forces. Working together, Babcock and Bell draw on a global track record of successful helicopter operations to deliver a trusted solution,” Nayler explained.
“Babcock has put the customer first in selecting a reliable, adaptable solution that will remain responsive to the needs of our Special Forces.”
The ADF has a history of operating the Bell 429, with the Royal Australian Navy having operated a small fleet of the 429 platform beginning in 2012.
The Navy’s Bell 429 helicopters were commissioned in 2012 and would go on to fly more than 10,000 hours, training more than 100 aircrew.
In its almost 10 years of service, the Navy’s Bell 429 helicopters travelled the length and breadth of Australia, supporting everything from naval small boat work-ups off the coast of Darwin to providing a fly-past for an Aviation Warfare Office Course graduation at East Sale, Victoria.
Additionally, the Bell 429 served to support senior Australian Defence officers, including the Governor-General, during the 2012 Narrabri floods, demonstrating the flexibility and reliability of the platform.
Bell’s managing director, Asia Pacific, David Sale, said Bell has a well-earned reputation for ruggedness and reliability.
“As one of the world’s leading helicopter manufacturers, Bell is in a strong position to offer reliable, cost-effective global support for the ongoing maintenance and sustainment of the ADF’s Special Operations helicopter fleet,” Sale explained.
“The Bell 429 is rugged and reliable. It is operationally robust and favoured by pilots and crew throughout the world, with more than 330 aircraft exceeding 330,000 hours of operation.
“With an open architecture system and global support in place, the Bell 429 Global Ranger has the capacity to perform consistently and adapt rapidly to new technologies and evolving requirements.”
Nayler reinforced the advantages of selecting the Bell 429 offering, telling Defence Connect, “The Bell 429 offers very little programmatic risk, with a focus on delivering a rapidly deployable, flexible, future-proofed and manoeuvrable airframe with a partner that is flexible in delivering the aircraft in a cost-effective, time-sensitive manner while working closely with CASG and Defence.
“Babcock and Bell’s offering is designed to be a pivot from OEM to service providers, which ultimately works better for the end user and CASG, minimising risk and cost, while providing confidence in delivery time frame.”
Defence is planning to acquire a fleet of up to 18 light helicopters to enhance the aviation capability of Australian Special Operations Forces through increased mobility, direct air support and ISR as part of LAND 2097 Phase 4.
Nayler added, “Babcock’s success as a Defence Prime is attributed to its ability to offer capability-focused solutions that select the best products and services tailored to the specific needs of the customer. The selection of Bell and the Global Ranger also offers closer ties to US Defence industry, and an opportunity to improve interoperability with US and other contemporary military capabilities.”
The Defence request for tender established that the helicopter should be a proven design (already in service either in commercial or military capacities), optimised for operating in dense urban environments and capable of rapid deployment by air transport in the Royal Australian Air Force’s C-17 Globemaster strategic airlifters.
The successful helicopters are intended for use by the Australian Army’s 6th Aviation Regiment, based at Holsworthy, south of Sydney, and will complement a squadron of larger MRH-90 Taipan helicopters.
Babcock International Group, the defence and aerospace company, has been trusted to deliver bespoke, highly skilled engineering services for over a century.
With revenue of around $9.5 billion in 2018-19, Babcock helps customers improve the capability, reliability and availability of their most critical assets within four market domains of marine, land, aviation and nuclear, underpinned by a deep understanding of technology integration, unique infrastructure and specialist training.