Defence Minister Richard Marles has said Australia’s fleet of Taipans will not fly again following a crash that killed four men in August.
The aircraft were already due to be withdrawn in December next year but will now remain grounded because an investigation into the incident will continue well into 2024.
It comes after the helicopter ditched into the water south of Hamilton Island while participating in the Talisman Sabre “war game” involving 30,000 participants.
Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Richard Marles said advice to the government outlined that the ongoing investigations into the crash would likely continue well into 2024, and Defence will not fly the platform until investigations are complete.
“The MRH-90 has been an important capability for our country and Defence Force, and I recognise the hard work of the hundreds of people who dedicated themselves to acquiring, operating, and sustaining the aircraft,” he said.
“The first of the 40 Black Hawks that will replace the MRH-90 have arrived and are already flying in Australia. We are focused on seeing their introduction to service as quickly as possible.
“The government’s highest priority is the safety and wellbeing of our people.
“We continue to support the families of the four soldiers who lost their lives earlier this year and the broader Defence community.”
The government is understood to be exploring options to accelerate the delivery of Black Hawks to Australia and for aircrew training with international partners.
From 2025, the new AH-64E Apache helicopters will also be introduced into service for the Australian Army.
“The Australian government recognises the unique and highly valued contributions of skilled defence industry workers,” said Minister for Defence Industry Pat Conroy.
“We are actively working with industry partners to transition the skilled workers supporting MRH-90s to the Black Hawk program and Army’s other helicopters.”
The Australian government also stated that today’s announcement does not presuppose or in any way suggest the outcome of the investigations into the tragic incident on 28 July, when an MRH-90 Taipan impacted waters near Lindeman Island, Queensland, during Exercise Talisman Sabre.
The four men killed were later named as Captain Daniel Lyon, Lieutenant Maxwell Nugent, Warrant Officer Class Two Joseph Laycock, and Corporal Alexander Naggs.
The incident raised yet more questions surrounding the use of the Taipan, which had been involved in multiple groundings.
The Taipan fleet was grounded in 2019, 2021 and earlier this year after an aircraft ditched off the NSW South Coast.
Initially purchased for $3.7 billion in 2005–06 to replace ageing Black Hawk and Sea King fleets, the locally-assembled Taipan has proven a headache for Defence, with statistics showing just 46 per cent of MRH-90 aircraft allocated to flying units were available to fly in 2021.
The incident in March saw 10 ADF personnel on a routine counter-terrorism training exercise rescued from the water near Jervis Bay, with two sustaining minor injuries.