For some time now, the Australian military has been searching for new helicopters for its Special Operations Forces (SOF). The American company Bell is considered a favorite to win the contract. More specifically, Bell, in partnership with Hawker-Pacific, is proposing the Bell 407 or Bell 429 helicopters.
In October, Australia’s Defense Capability Acquisition and Sustainment Group (CASG), issued a Request For Information (RFI) indicating the need for special operations-capable helicopters. In the RFI, CASG declared the need for a number of helicopters that would be divided into four detachments. One detachment would be stationed at the Holsworthy Barracks, where a considerable portion of the Australian SOF are based, along with one independent detachment, and two deployable detachments. The RFI didn’t specify the exact number of choppers needed but it described the detachments as comprised of four helicopters each. So, CASG is probably aiming at around 20 helicopters. That’s four for each detachment plus a few extra to maintain 100% operational readiness. The helicopters must be delivered by 2022 and be declared operational soon thereafter.
The RFI, moreover, specified the choppers must be capable of conducting air assault, transport, general utility, and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) operations. The choppers must also be able to be armed in case the Australian SOF wish for a weapons platform in the future.
“The project is considering a wide range of procurement options based around a light helicopter as the major system,” said the RFI statement. “The acquisition strategy is developmental and is subject to government approval.”
In an interview with Defense News, Dan McQuestin, the business development director of Bell for Australia, said the Bell 407 fulfills all of the above requirements and that a weaponized version of the light helicopter is operational in the fleet of a Middle Eastern country. McQuestin also added that the Bell 407 can be loaded on a C-17A Globemaster III airplane. This capability is crucial, considering the fast-paced operational requirements for SOF units, which often necessitate the rapid deployment of forces around the world.
At the moment, the Italian defense company Leonardo is Bell’s fiercest competitor. The European company is offering the AW109 Trekker helicopter, a light chopper often used for medical evacuations.
The Australian Special Operations Command (SOCOMD) is comprised of the Special Air Service Regiment (SASR), the Special Operations Engineer Regiment (SOER), and the 1st and 2nd Commando Regiments — the former is a reserve unit that provides individual operator support to its active duty brethren. The Army’s 6th Aviation Regiment provides air transport to the above units.