AUSTRALIA’S TROUBLED Kaman SH-2G(A) Super Seasprite helicopter programme could be under threat of cancellation once again. Minister for Defence, the Hon Joel Fitzgibbon MP, made the revelation during an ABC Television interview after the government had announced on February 18 that it was launching a review of air combat capability (see p27). Fitzgibbon believes that Australia’s recently elected Labour government, has been passed a procurement mess, saying, «What I see horrifies me, I’ve inherited an absolute nightmare.»
He said the government was not ruling out any possibilities regarding the Seasprite project, including cancellation, but admitted that it would be a very tough decision to make. Previous cancellation threats were allayed last May, when the then government agreed to continue development (see Australia to Persevere with Seasprites, July 2007, p29), even though it would mean that initial operational capability would not be achieved until 2011 and full capability was not expected until 2014. At that time, then Defence Minister Dr Brendan Nelson favoured cancelling the project, but was overruled by his Cabinet colleagues.
Despite this, with the recent change of government, various defence projects are being re-examined and the Seasprite is one of them. To date more than AUSS1 billion (US$917 million) has been spent on these helicopters, which have been grounded since early 2006 due to concerns over their Automatic Flight Control System (AFCS). Kaman, however, says that the AFCS problem has now been resolved. Formal qualification testing of the Integrated Tactical Avionics System (ITAS) is now in its final stages, and the intention is to get the Seasprites flying again later this year.
The previous decision to continue with the programme was partly influenced by the amount of money already spent and the threat by Kaman to sue if the deal was cancelled. The project is now running six years behind schedule and Fitzgibbon identified it as one of several defence acquisitions that the new government believes are unlikely ever to achieve their desired capability.