A fleet of helicopters has been retired – 15 months ahead of schedule – after a four soldiers were tragically killed.
The MRH-90 Taipans, which were due to be withdrawn by December next year, were grounded after a helicopter impacted waters near Hamilton Island in July during Exercise Talisman Sabre.
The incident claimed the lives of Captain Danniel Lyon, Lieutenant Maxwell Nugent, Warrant Officer Class Two Joseph Laycock and Corporal Alexander Naggs.
Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Richard Marles said the early withdrawal was the “only decision that makes sense”, noting that the four seperate investigations were likely to continue well into next year.
“Already one of them has made clear that it will take 12 months for them to reach their conclusion and we were planning to retire the Taipans at the end of next year anyway, there is no world in which we should be flying these helicopters again,” he said.
“In many ways, this decision was inevitable, but it is an important step.”
He said there were still questions about what happened that night, but this was the best outcome.
There had been a separate incident in March, when an engine failure during a training exercise off the coast of NSW forced crew to ditch into the sea.
There were no casualties in that incident, and other Taipans were allowed to resume flying in early April with “risk mitigations”.
Pressed by host Karl Stefanovic on what information he had now, that he did not have before the men were sent up in the air in July, Mr Marles said the decision taken on Friday was in response to the situation.
“The moment that this incident occurred, we said we would not fly the helicopters again until investigations were completed, that we understood what had happened and if there were any rectifications that needed to be made, they had been made,” Mr Marles said.
“What’s become clear is that those investigations are going to take a considerable amount of time.
“It is now impossible to see a scenario where we would complete the investigations, have the recommendations in place, implement those recommendations, and then be flying these aircraft for a few weeks at the end of next year. It makes no sense.”
Mr Marles said the efforts of the defence force was to now transition to new capability “as quickly as possible”.
A fleet of Blackhawk helicopters had always been planned to replace the Taipans.
Three arrived in September and more are set to be delivered in the months ahead.
The ADF will also continue to operate its CH-47F Chinooks, Tigers, and MH-60R Seahawks which, Mr Marles said, would “continue to provide a robust and ready aviation capability”.
New AH-64E Apache helicopters will also be introduced into the army’s service from 2025.