Taipan military choppers won’t fly again with army

ADF to permanently ground Taipan fleet

The make of Army helicopter involved in a fatal training exercise just two months ago will be pulled from service more than a year before its intended withdrawal date.

Defence Minister Richard Marles confirmed on Friday the MRH-90 Taipan helicopters won’t return to flying for the Australian Defence Force.

The helicopters were scheduled to be withdrawn from service in December 2024.

The early phasing out of the Taipans follows a crash off the Queensland coast in July. It killed four people on board during military drills as part of Exercise Talisman Sabre.

“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,” Marles said.

“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.”

Marles said the decision affected 19 Taipans, which had been due to fall to 16 by January 1.

The July crash off Hamilton Island was the second incident involving a Taipan helicopter this year. In March, another Taipan ditched into the water off the NSW south coast during a training exercise.

The Taipan fleet was grounded after the Queensland crash. He said permanently grounding the helicopters was the “only decision that makes sense” given they wouldn’t have been flown until investigations into the fatal crash have wrapped up.

That is expected to take a year to complete.

“There is no world in which we should be flying these helicopters again. Given that, what we really need to do is to be moving as quickly as we can to our new capability, the Black Hawks, as soon as possible,” Mr Marles said.

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The ADF will still use CH-47F Chinooks, Tigers and MH‑60R Seahawks as part of its helicopter fleet. New AH-64E Apache helicopters will be rolled out from 2025 for the Army.

Mr Marles said the government had been looking at speeding up the rollout of Black Hawk helicopters.

“The first of the 40 Black Hawks that will replace the MRH-90 have arrived and are already flying in Australia,” he said.

“We are focused on seeing their introduction to service as quickly as possible.”

The ADF so far has three Black Hawks, the first of which began flying in Australia only last week.

Opposition MP Phillip Thompson, who served with the defence force, said the grounding of the Taipans was overdue.

“The inquiry into the tragic helicopter crash, which saw four of our Australian Army soldiers killed is ongoing. Their families, their mates and the wider ADF community want answers and the government needs to be honest and transparent,” he said.

“I look forward to the chronically underperforming and dangerous MRH-90 being fully replaced by the proven and reliable Black Hawk.”

Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce said the government had been too slow on the rollout, adding both Australia’s allies and enemies would be taking note.

“What we’re seeing overall is a weakening of our defence force … the fact we’re not spending any new money on defence, and now we’ve got the Taipans, which are a central platform, all grounded,” he told Sky News.

“We’ve really got to sharpen up defence because our nation has to come as strong as possible as quickly as possible, and this sort of reshuffling the deck chairs and removing one every now and then is not helping us at all.”

-with AAP

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