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Australia Short-Lists NFH-90, MH-60R for Naval Deal

The Minister for Defence, Senator John Faulkner, today announced that the Government has given first pass approval for a major project to provide the Australian Defence Force with a new naval combat helicopter.

Project AIR 9000 Phase 8 is included in the Defence Capability Plan to provide naval warships with a new combat helicopter.

Senator Faulkner said that two potential helicopters had been identified. "The Government has decided that the new helicopter will be either the Sikorsky-Lockheed Martin built MH-60R sourced through the United States Navy, or the NATO Helicopter Industries NH90 NFH sourced through Australian Aerospace".

Senator Faulkner said that a competition would be held between the two helicopter options which would be cost-capped by the Defence Materiel Organisation through the tender process.

"The new naval combat helicopter will enhance the Royal Australian Navy's ability to conduct a range of maritime operations. It will be capable of undertaking anti-submarine warfare and will be equipped with air-to-surface missiles," Senator Faulkner said.

"This fleet of combat helicopters will form the centerpiece of naval combat aviation to beyond 2040.

"The new helicopter will greatly extend the eyes and ears of our surface fleet and allow the conduct of combat and support operations in the complex and demanding maritime environment.

"They will replace the current fleet of Seahawk anti-submarine warfare helicopters and fill an operational need left by the cancellation of the Seasprite project," Senator Faulkner said.

The procurement of the new naval combat helicopters as a matter of urgency was announced in the 2009 Defence White Paper. This decision demonstrates the Government's commitment to this important Defence capability.

Sufficient helicopters will be acquired to provide at least eight helicopters concurrently embarked on ships at sea, which under the White Paper requires a fleet of 24 helicopters.

"The competitive process would commence in the next few months with the Government making a final decision about the new helicopter in 2011," Senator Faulkner said. "This schedule will enable the new helicopters to be delivered from 2014.

"Any decision Government makes in 2011 will take into account all relevant considerations including capability, cost, interoperability with other ADF capabilities, Australian industry opportunities, risk and value for money," Senator Faulkner said.

The Minister for Defence Personnel, Materiel and Science, Greg Combet, said that the decision to progress the project via a competitive tender was consistent with the Kinnaird and Mortimer procurement reforms.

The tender will allow the companies to offer innovative solutions that satisfy the capability, cost and schedule requirements and detail what opportunities they will offer local industry.

"A competitive process will ensure value for money for the tax payer and ensure the project's acquisition strategy provides the Government with the best possible information to support a decision for this vital capability," Mr Combet said.

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New Naval Combat Helicopter