New Zealand considers Australia's rejected SH-2G Seasprites
The New Zealand government is considering the purchase of up to 11 ex-Australian Super Seasprite helicopters to replace its fleet of five SH-2Gs, it has been confirmed.
New Zealand defence minister Jonathan Coleman told local media that the Cabinet had given defence officials approval to start preliminary negotiations with Kaman Aerospace for the aircraft, which were rejected by Australia in 2008 following recurring integration and airworthiness issues.
The package, which could be worth as much as $200 million, is understood to also include a flight simulator and a wide range of spares and support equipment.
According to the Ministry of Defence's (MoD) 2011 Defence Capability Plan, the Naval Helicopter Capability Project will look at options for upgrading or replacing the existing SH-2G fleet over the 2012-2016 period.
Ownership of the older 11 refurbished SH-2Gs was handed back to Kaman following Australia's decision to cancel the project and the company has been looking to sell the aircraft to a variety of customers ever since.
Coleman told New Zealand media the airworthiness certification issues encountered by the Australians had been corrected. The MoD is also understood to have carried out its own evaluation into the technical suitability of the aircraft.
Purchased in 2001, New Zealand's SH-2G Seasprites currently operate from the navy's two ANZAC frigates and also embark on the two Offshore Patrol Vessels and the Multi Role Vessel when their tasking requires the use of an aircraft.
However, according to the New Zealand Defence Force’s own annual report, the fleet has been troubled by both maintenance issues and a lack of qualified staff, casting a shadow over the navy’s ability to operate a larger fleet.
The 2011 annual report said the combination of 'low crew numbers and the paucity of aircraft availability' had made it impossible to maintain three flights ready for embarkation.
'The squadron's ability to train and sustain has been significantly impacted to a level that the unit can only currently support a single flight with a limited surge capacity. And, while a robust regeneration plan was developed to attempt to rectify this issue, the lack of flying hours and aircraft has made a sustainable level of two embarked flights with short term surge to three unachievable,' the report said.
Further, for a large proportion of the year, two aircraft were undergoing phase maintenance simultaneously from the pool of five available.
'As a result, the squadron was unable to produce the aircraft availability and generate the flying hours required to support sustained embarked operations of more than one flight.'
Source: By Tony Skinner in Christchurch, New Zealand / the Shephard News Team - 16 May 2012
Photo: The New Zealand's SH-2G Seasprites currently operate from the navy's two ANZAC frigates (Photo by shephardmedia.com)