29 September 2023
SUBJECTS: MRH-90 fleet update; Army restructure; AFL Grand Final.
MATT SHIRVINGTON, HOST: In some breaking news this morning, the Australian Defence Force is grounding all of its MRH-90 Taipan helicopters for good. It follows the fatal crash of one of the choppers in late July. The incident killed four ADF servicemen and is currently under investigation. The news comes as the Army prepares to relocate almost 1,000 serving personnel to Northern Australia to be better prepared for growing tensions in the region. Joining me now is the Defence Minister Richard Marles. Good morning to you. Well, these Taipan helicopters were due to be withdrawn in December next year. Has it left us short? Are we vulnerable until we replace them?
RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well look Matt, there are genuine challenges in relation to capability, but it's really why we're making the decision that we have made today. We said at the time of this tragedy that we would not be flying these airframes again until investigations were complete, we understood what had happened and we were able to rectify the helicopters. What we now know is that of the four investigations in place, at least one of those is going to go for twelve months. There's really no world in which we would be in a position to have these airframes up and running before they're due– their retirement date at the end of next year, anyway. So, what we need to do is to be moving as quickly as we can now to getting the new capability, the Black Hawks, into the sky. And so we're working with our international partners, particularly the United States, to make sure that we're getting as much training as possible, getting our air crew certified so that those Black Hawks can be flying as soon as possible.
SHIRVINGTON: So when will that be? When will the Black Hawks arrive and be operational?
MARLES: They are– they're starting to arrive now. So, we've got three in our possession now. In fact the first flight of those took place in the last week. But to get the capability up and running is going to be a process that will take place through the course of the end of this year and through next year. And so there are going to be challenges around having the full capability in place over the course of that period of time and that's why we're getting more training time with our international partners. But it's really at the heart of the decision that we've made today. We need to be focused on getting those Black Hawks in the air as quickly as possible and accept the reality that we're not going to be flying these Taipans ever again.
SHIRVINGTON: Defence Minister, you've announced a relocation of a significant amount of troops, up to a thousand troops to Townsville. That's big in itself. From Adelaide to back up north. How concerned should we be about tensions within that Asia Pacific region?
MARLES: Well we've been saying for some time now that we are living in the most complex, in some ways the most threatening strategic circumstances that we've faced really since the end of the Second World War. And it was because of that that we put in place the Defence Strategic Review to look at whether our Defence Force was fit for purpose, doing the sorts of things it needed to do, given the strategic circumstances that we face. And the Defence Strategic Review came up with a number of ideas; we need to be much more focused on providing for the collective peace and security of the region in which we live, we need to be having a defence force which is able to project, particularly from our northern bases. And that's really at the heart of the decisions that we are making now, which is to have our combat brigades in the north to maintain their core capabilities as combat brigades, but to have specialities with each of them so that we are concentrating and focusing the power of those brigades. And that's really at the heart of the decisions that we've made, as well as standing up a new long-range fires, long-range missile strike brigade in Adelaide, close to where our defence science and our defence industry is located.
SHIRVINGTON: Yeah, some significant changes. Just very quickly Defence Minister, grand final tomorrow – Pies, Lions? Who are you going for?
MARLES: Matt, you know I've been following footy a long time, I really regard barracking for Collingwood as something of a character flaw. So I will be barracking for Brisbane tomorrow.
SHIRVINGTON: Fantastic. Thank you very much. Appreciate it, Richard Marles.
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