From Australia.............Defence force in copters debacle..THE Australian Defence Force has started accepting delivery of a $1.6 billion fleet of French-made helicopters despite warnings that they are not safe to fly at night or in bad weather.
- Defence force in copters debacle
- THE Australian Defence Force has started accepting delivery of a $1.6 billion fleet of French-made helicopters despite warnings that they are not safe to fly at night or in bad weather.
The helicopters have also been revealed to be underpowered, requiring the replacement of engines at an additional cost of $110 million.
The fiasco is detailed in a scathing Audit Office report on the purchase of 22 of the high-tech Tiger armed reconnaissance helicopters, which were to be in service by 2004.
The aircraft are designed to carry out battlefield reconnaissance, to provide air support for troops under attack and to escort troop-carrying Black Hawk helicopters.
But the Audit Office said the first three aircraft delivered did not meet contracted specifications covering weight, weapons, navigation systems for low-visibility flying, crash resistance, flying over large bodies of water and availability of spare parts.
A test crew sent to evaluate the first of the helicopters warned it had problems that would "directly affect safe and efficient operation of the aircraft, especially in the training environment".
One helicopter would be out of action for nine months while improvements were made to bring it up to scratch.
The ADF ordered 22 Tigers for $1.58 billion in a contract with Eurocopter International Pacific in December 2001.
Opposition defence spokesman Robert McClelland said this was another example of mismanagement of a key military helicopter project.
The Defence Materiel Organisation, which handled the purchase, did not specify the weight and type of missiles to be carried by the Tiger, the Audit Office said. The contractor assumed that Australia planned to use a lighter missile than was intended. As a consequence, the helicopter underperformed when the extra weight was added.
The engines were also found to underperform in the hot conditions of northern Australia.
On a checklist detailing the airworthiness of the fifth aircraft delivered, the Audit Office marked 14 out of 15 crucial areas of the helicopter's performance with an "X" for deficiency.
The original plan was for Australia to buy an "off-the-shelf" aircraft that was already in operation elsewhere. Instead it wound up first in line and got aircraft off the start of the production line. The French military got their first helicopter four months after the ADF.
Responding to the engine problems, the Defence Department said the manufacturer was obliged to deliver engines that could produce sufficient power at no additional cost to the ADF.
The Audit Office said Defence had not produced a formal report on how it came to chose the Tiger over its rivals and recommended that in future such a report should be produced.
Defence agreed to do that but insisted that its processes met accountability and transparency requirements.
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