Bell 429 for Australian Army Special Ops?

By Australian Defence Business Review

Babcock Australasia has announced it will offer the Bell 429 for the Australian Army’s Project LAND 2097 Phase 4 special operations support helicopter requirement.

To be operated by 6 Aviation Regiment (6Avn) at Holsworthy in Sydney, the capability will support the larger MRH 90 helicopter in service by providing a military or commercial-off-the-shelf and rapidly-deployable light helicopter capable of operating in low threat and built-up urban environments.

Babcock had been considering the twin-engined Bell 429 and the smaller single-engined Bell 407 for its bid, but says the B429 is the most suitable helicopter for the requirement.

“The Bell 429 has a relatively new paramilitary design, with high levels of safety, role flexibility and performance that will meet the demands of Australian Special Forces,” Babcock Australasia’s Managing Director – Land, Graeme Nayler said in a statement. “Working together, Babcock and Bell draw on a global track record of successful helicopter operations to deliver a trusted solution.

“Babcock has put the customer first in selecting a reliable, adaptable solution that will remain responsive to the needs of our Special Forces,” he added. “The ADF requires absolute confidence in its Special Operations helicopters capability together with cost-effective customisation and ongoing sustainment. Our solution is trusted to deliver.”

The Bell 429 has been successfully missionised for coast guard, ambulance, police and other para-public requirements worldwide. The type has also previously served in a limited capacity in the ADF, with Raytheon Australia operating four B429s on lease to the RAN for the second iteration of the Retention & Motivation Initiative (RMI 2) at HMAS Albatross from 2012 to 2018.

RMI 2’s B429s replaced the AgustaWestland A109Es operated under RMI 1 from 2007 to 2012, and both types successfully maintained pilot proficiency and training throughput for the Fleet Air Arm during Navy’s protracted transition to the MRH 90, MH-60R Romeo Seahawk and Airbus H135 helicopters during that period.

“As one of the world’s leading helicopter manufacturers, Bell is in a strong position to offer reliable, cost-effective global support for the ongoing maintenance and sustainment of the ADF’s Special Operations helicopter fleet,” Bell’s Managing Director Asia Pacific, David Sale said. “The Bell 429 is rugged and reliable. It is operationally robust and favoured by pilots and crew throughout the world with more than 330 aircraft exceeding 330,000 hours of operation.

“With an open architecture system and global support in place, the Bell 429 Global Ranger has the capacity to perform consistently and adapt rapidly to new technologies and evolving requirements.”

Babcock and its B429 will be pitted against Airbus’s H145M for LAND 2097 Phase 4, while Hawker Pacific is also believed to be considering both the B429 and B407GX as well. Responses to the RFT are due to be submitted in July, with down-select and contract signature scheduled in 2021/22, for service entry in 2023.

This article was published by ADBR on May 28, 2020.

Featured Photo: An RMI 2 Bell 429 in service with the RAN from 2012 to 2018. (ADF)