Snippets of History: The Kaman SH2G(A) Super Seasprite

The SH2G(A) Super Seasprite never reached operational status in the RAN, but it was a major acquisition project that occupied Defence, and the Fleet Air Arm, for over eleven years – and cost the tax payer over a billion dollars.  Now, there is little to show for it except for a few photos in the FAA museum and a brief description of the aircraft on the RAN History website. 

The tale of what went right – and wrong – is a fascinating one, and worthy of recording on these pages.  Marcus Peake remembers the story. 

On 17 January 1997 Australia’s then Minister for Defence, Ian McLachlan, announced the RAN would acquire 11 Kaman SH-2G(A) Super Seasprites to equip its eight Anzac Class Frigates.  He also announced that further orders would be considered for future needs and to support the prospective Offshore Patrol Combatant.

On 5 March 2008 Senator Joel Fitzgibbon, the new Labour Government Minister for Defence, announced that after careful consideration of all the issues involved, the Government intended to cancel the project.    

The eleven-year interval between the two dates bequeathed the Project two unenviable records: for the most troubled Defence aircraft acquisition process ever, and the least successful. Not one operational aircraft was ever brought into service, despite expenditure of over one billion Australian dollars.  So what went wrong?

Project Sea 1411 – the Super Seasprite acquisition – was born of a need to acquire helicopters for the RAN’s Anzac class frigates. These were due to enter service in 1996 but no dedicated aircraft had been included in the purchase.

In the early 90’s the RAN was still taking delivery of Sikorsky S-70B-2 Seahawks to equip its Adelaide class FFG frigates, and there was an expectation that additional Seahawks would be purchased for the Anzacs as well.  This would avoid additional aircraft types in a small Fleet Air Arm inventory; provide commonality in training, maintenance and logistic support, and would amortise the Seahawk purchase price across a larger fleet.

But there was a wildcard in the pack – the Offshore Patrol Combatant (OPC), which was in early development. The OPC project had emerged from the 1991 Force Structure Review, which looked to replace the RAN’s ageing Fremantle class patrol boats.  In the original design there was no intent for the OPC to carry a helicopter, but it was soon realised that organic air support would significantly enhance the vessel’s surveillance and strike roles, particularly if it could deploy a weapon well beyond the ship’s visual and electronic horizon.  Accordingly, the original plan to acquire 15 OPCs was reduced to just nine, with the savings put towards the cost of a new helicopter.

The specifications drawn up for the new helicopter set some ambitious targets.  A primary role was to extend the OPC/Anzac’s surveillance and strike range.  To do so it would be required to detect, classify and engage targets well beyond its mother ship’s range, and to communicate with her via a secure data link.  Further, it was to be equipped with an anti-ship missile with a range superior to a target’s own weapons, as well as torpedoes to attack submarines detected by the mother’s sonar system.

Above.  Images of the original 1993 OPC design are hard to come by, but the winning contender for the 2018 OPV, the Lurssen OPV80, gives a good idea of the concept.  At 80-metre is the same length as the OPC design, but with a Displacement 26% greater (Image: Lurssen).

The missile requirement drove much of the helicopter’s sensor suite, as the RAN wanted to pursue targets both actively and passively. This dictated a high-definition radar, as well as Infra-Red sensors and a suite of Electronic Surveillance equipment.

The choice of anti-ship missile was also dictated by the helicopter’s role.  Aside from the range requirement the Navy wanted a weapon that would inflict crippling damage to an enemy ship.  It selected the Kongsberg Penguin Mk 2 missile – a formidable weapon boasting a 125kg warhead, an inertial nav/passive infra-red guidance and a range of some 20 nautical miles.

Ships and People

The OPC program gained extra momentum when Malaysia expressed an interest in acquiring a similar class of Offshore Patrol Vessel (OPV). The political and financial advantage of a joint Australia-Malaysia OPC/OPV program was irresistible, particularly as the RMN’s requirement was for 27 such vessels against Australia’s nine.

But at 81.5m long and just 1350 tonnes displacement, the OPC design was too small to accommodate the 10-tonne Seahawk. A smaller helicopter in the 5-6 tonne class was required, and as no aircraft had yet been procured for the Anzac frigate it was decided that it would carry the same helicopter type as the OPC. This essentially killed any notion of further Seahawks, and significantly limited the field of aircraft available. But a third factor was in the making that would also fundamentally affect equipment specification: the number of crew the aircraft would carry.

Naval helicopters typically carried at least a three-man crew – certainly those with complex weapon/sensor systems. The Seahawk was a good example, with a single pilot in the right-hand seat, an Observer/TACCO in the left and a SENSO at the console in the cabin. The concept for Sea 1411 was to remove one crewmember by combining the TACCO and SENSO roles into a single station. The reasons were logical: reduction to just two people would not only save weight (that could be used for greater endurance/payload), but would also alleviate aircrew recruiting and training pressures being experienced by the RAN.

But the trade-off was a high workload for the two crew members. Under the new concept the TACCO/SENSO would be responsible not only for mission planning, but the operation of all sensors and weapon systems – systems made more complex by the stated requirement to have an effective ‘stand off’ strike capability using both active and/or passive sensors. The pilot, aside from flying the helicopter, would also have to assume much more of the sensor management and tactical planning than before.

Keeping the minimalist crew workload to an acceptable level meant a very sophisticated mission system would be required,  incorporating a cutting-edge human-machine interface. The answer was an all-new digital Integrated Tactical Avionics System (ITAS), which linked all the sensors and weapon systems in the aircraft and delivered information to the crew via high resolution colour multi-functional displays. For example, the TACCO might elect to display his navigation track and waypoints on one screen and then quickly overlay sensor information over the nav information, such as radar and ESM tracks. Unwanted information would be filtered out. The displays also replaced many of the aircraft’s old analogue flight instruments.  An all-new Automatic Flight Control System would also be required – in effect, an ‘autopilot’ that could fly the aircraft throughout most of its flight envelope, further reducing the pilots workload.

Below.  A ‘before and after’ view of the Super Seasprite’s cockpit. On the left is the original S2G analogue design.  To the right is the new ‘glass’ cockpit featuring four high-resolution displays driven by the all new digital Integrated Tactical Avionics System.  Note the slightly wider centre console, that further restricted the room available to the crew members. 

Who Was Charlie Kaman?


Charles Huron Kaman was born in Washington DC in 1919, and obtained an engineering degree magna cum laude in 1940. He worked initially for Igor Sikorsky, but in 1945 started his own aircraft company, Kaman Aircraft, to pursue his own designs.  His first offering, the Kaman K-125 flew in January 1947, featuring intermeshing rotors and Kaman’s patented servo-flap control. It was followed two years later by the Kaman K225, purchased by the US Navy and Coastguard for $25K each; he later improved the design by fitting it with a gas turbine, making it the world’s first helicopter to be thus powered.  

He was a great innovator. In 1953 he produced the first electrically powered drone, and a year later designed a V/STOL aircraft. In March 1954 a modified Kaman HTK-1 became the world’s first twin turbine helicopter, and in 1957 he modified on as a UAV.  He was also experimenting at this time with an experimental helicopter, using cold air delivered to the tips of the rotor blades.  

Other notable achievements were:  the first all composite main rotor blade; an experimental ‘Convertiplane’ equipped with a GE J-85 turbo jet and wings from a Beechcraft Queen Air the reached speeds of over 320km/hr;  the first jet-powered autogyro with telescoping rotor blades, and a laser based mine countermeasures system called ‘Magic Lantern’.

He was an aficionado of the guitar and in 1966 founded Ovation Instruments, developing, inter alia, an acoustic guitar using aerospace composite materials. He also founded Kaman Industrial Technologies which grew to be one of the largest industrial distributors in North America.  

Kaman died in Connecticut on 31 January 2011 at the age of 91.  He had suffered from Alzheimer’s disease in his last years. 

The ADF’s Defence Material Organisation (DMO) issued its Request for Tenders in October of 1995, and by March of the following year the two contenders – Westland for the Super Lynx and Kaman for the Super Seasprite – lodged Tenders for the supply of 14 aircraft.  Within DMO it soon became clear that acquiring this number would exceed project costs, and so the figure was reduced and the procurement of the missile was moved to a separate Project (Sea 1414). This increased their per-unit cost, particularly as the research and development costs of the sensor suite and the ITAS/AFCS was now amortised over a smaller number of airframes.

Kaman’s Super Seasprite offered advantages over the Lynx, insofar as it was fitted with two General Electric T700 powerplants (the same as the RAN’s Seahawks, thus offering logistic commonality) and was about 10% cheaper. The Lynx only had two crewmembers but its suite of sensors and level of their integration was somewhat less than required by the Australians. Further, the British helicopter was too small to carry the type of missile DMO had in mind.

On January 1997 – a month before tenders for Malaysia’s OPV contract were due – the Australian Government announced that the RAN would acquire 11 Kaman Super Seasprite SH-2G(A) helicopters to equip its Anzac frigates, and ‘…that further orders of the helicopter will be considered to take account of possible future needs and to support the prospective Offshore Patrol Combatant.’[1]

To further reduce costs Kaman had offered the RAN ‘re-worked’ Super Seasprites rather than new ones, and this option was also taken. These were SH-2F airframes held in storage in an Arizona ‘boneyard’, which would be refurbished with a new upper fuselage to an as-new condition, before being fitted with the new weapons and avionics system. The estimated saving was about $25m.

So the die was cast: Defence had selected a helicopter based primarily on the following four specifications:

  • they would be used on both the Anzacs and the OPV, thus limiting their size;
  • they must be capable of a significant anti-ship strike capability requiring complex, self-contained sensors;
  • the crew would comprise just two people, requiring a state-of-the-art Integrated Tactical Avionics System (ITAS) featuring a new Human-Machine interface to do so. Crucially, a new digital Automatic Flight Control System (AFCS) was also required to meet the RAN’s needs, and
  • they would be refurbished airframes, rather than new ones.

Kaman and the DMO signed the $661.8m prime contact in June of 1997, with deliveries scheduled for 2001.  The contract implied that the original US Navy type certification for the new Super Seasprite and its flight control system was acceptable to the RAN at the time.  (The following year a new tri-Service certification was adopted but rather than re-negotiate the contract to the new standard a decision was made for the Project Office to manage the gap between the two.  This brought certification issues which remained unresolved throughout the Project’s life).

The OPV Connection Breaks

Four months after the Kaman contract was signed the OPC program collapsed when the Malaysian Government chose Blohm-Voss as the manufacturer to build their Offshore Patrol Vessels, rather than Transfield (Australia).  Malaysia’s decision not to proceed effectively killed one of the principal reasons for selecting the Seasprite.

In retrospect is difficult to imagine why Australia had such high expectations that a joint Australia-Malaysia patrol boat program would proceed.  Four years earlier Malaysia’s prime minister, Dr Mahathir Mohammed, had taken great offence when his Australian counterpart described him as ‘recalcitrant’ for not

attending an APEC summit in Seattle.  Mohammed’s attitude to Australia was already ambivalent, to say the least, and the rebuke by Keating caused diplomatic friction that lasted for years. Even without this slight it’s fair to say the Malaysian government had little love for what they regarded as a ‘colonialist’ Australia and, with other options on the table for their OPV, was always likely to give them preference rather than a joint OPV/OPC program with us.

The cancellation of the OPC program triggered a requirement to re-examine Project Sea 1411 and, if it couldn’t be justified, to cancel it. The option to put Seahawks on the Anzac frigates was a possibility – the S70B could carry a long range anti-ship missile, just as the Seasprite could, and commonality factors with the existing fleet were a powerful incentive to take this path. But against these advantages was the ill-feeling between Sikorsky and the RAN which had developed during the Seahawk acquisition, and their affordability. Even though the Seasprite was an all-new and different aircraft type with all the risk and cost that entailed, on paper it remained much cheaper than the Sikorsky option. Defence thought the Kaman contract represented good value for money and, with sunken costs already committed, was not inclined to cancel it. In retrospect, it was a huge mistake.

It is easy to be wise in hindsight. Estimation of financial risk was relatively easy to assess, but technical risk not so much. Arguably, the relevant committee[2] sitting in Canberra was ill-equipped to understand just how difficult it would be to develop a state of the art ITAS/AFCS for a suite of sensors never before placed in an ADF maritime helicopter – yet alone in airframes well over 20 years old – and to deliver it on time and in budget.[3]  Problems with ITAS functionality and AFCS airworthiness were, as it turned out, the straws that eventually broke the camel’s back.

Progress & Problems

Kongsberg’s Penguin Mk.2 missile, chosen for its ‘stand off’ range and hitting power.

In the meantime, all was going reasonably well.  In February 1998 Defence signed a $79m contract with Kongsberg Gruppen (Norway) for an initial batch of Penguin missiles, followed a year later by a second $76m contract.  In March of 1998 a contract for FLIR and ESM was signed.

Work was also progressing in Kaman’s plant in the USA. By June of 1999 Kaman was flight testing the new AFCS on a Super Seasprite, and the first prototype of the Australian version was on the assembly line. Delivery of the first aircraft was forecast for the end of 2000, with the final aircraft in 2002.

By March 2000 the SH-2G(A) had reportedly made 13 flights using the first iterations of ITAS and AFCS software, and flight testing was expected to continue. By then the second ITAS software build was underway with the relevant sub-contractor – Litton Guidance & Controls, a California-based company. But it was clear that schedules were beginning to slip, with the focus on Litton’s performance. Delays were noted in the development of ITAS and flight simulator elements of the project, and concern was expressed in the lack of critical documentation.

In retrospect, Litton – who was the main sub-contractor for delivery of the ITAS – completely underestimated the magnitude of the task. It was also undergoing its own difficulties with attrition of key staff to the ‘dot.com’ boom and to other company projects, and restructuring of management adding to the churn.  It was then acquired by Northrop-Grumman, creating further confusion in its focus on the work. By late 2000 it was clear the program was in trouble when Litton reported it had run into difficulties and was asking for additional money to finish the ITAS work.

Above: Seasprites at HMAS Albatross (RAN image).

The first Seasprites arrived in Australia in 2001 to facilitate maintenance and aircrew training, but the lack of a functional, integrated ITAS meant they were unable to do any tactical training. Months passed and the original deadline came and went without any tangible progress. In Feburary 2002 a Senate Committee was told that persistent ITAS problems would delay service entry for at least another two years. It was also informed that Kaman had terminated Litton’s contract in late 2001 and appointed two new sub-contractors to finish the work: CSC Australia Ltd and Northrop-Grumman Integrated Technology. The former was already Kaman’s principal sub-contractor for development of the aircraft’s Flight Simulator, and for the software support centre at Nowra.

By February 2002 Kaman had already been paid some 80% of the total fixed price contract, but only six aircraft had been built and these still belonged to Kaman, albeit at its facility in Nowra. The way the acquisition contract was structured meant that DMO was required to pay as various milestones were reached, even if the aircraft were dysfunctional. It wasn’t the only problem with the contract – there was no clause to penalise Kaman if it didn’t deliver. There was no way for Defence to get its money back, or even its money’s worth, except by sticking to the contract in the hope of eventual success.

There was also a conflicting sustainment contract, which paid Kaman to maintain the aircraft.  Unfortunately there was no hard linkage between this and the acquisition contract deliverables, so as the Project slipped the ADF found itself paying for the maintenance of airframes which hadn’t been delivered.  This problem was only resolved in 2003. 

By then Defence was in a classic sunken-cost dilemma, where the stark choice was to cancel the contract with nothing to show for it, or to grit its teeth and pay more to continue, even though it was fraught with risk. DMO decided on the second path, and informed the Senate committee as such. ‘We believe, at this stage, it is better [to continue the program]’ Michael Roche, head of DMO, informed them. ‘Our judgement is that we are more likely to get a result this way, rather than by suing the company and effectively terminating the contract. We have a fairly clear plan emerging of how [Kaman] are going to handle the software deficiencies and while it is not ideal, it will deliver the helicopters faster than we can get them any other way. We believe we will get the helicopters and that they will be serviceable and useful.’

And so the project struggled on. By then the working relationship between the key parties had soured, with acrimony a frequent event. There was also a growing lack of confidence in the process and the reliability of ITAS.

In late 2002 the Chief of Navy refused to make Provisional Acceptance of the aircraft  – the point at which Operational Test and Evaluation would have started. But in October the following year the then Minister for Defence, Robert Hill, announced that the RAN would provisionally accept eight of the aircraft in an “Interim Training Helicopter Configuration” to enable flight testing and operational evaluation.  This would allow the newly commissioned 805 Squadron to start training by the end of 2004.

Above:  Chief of Navy, VADM Chris Ritchie, at the ceremony for Provisional Acceptance Ceremony of the SH-2G(A) Super Seasprite.

Just what changed between CN’s refusal of Provisional Acceptance and Minister Hill’s concurrence to it a year or so later is unclear. “Interim Training Helicopter Configuration” was not a term previously heard of, and may well have been devised as a way to get things moving. The limits imposed by this configuration – that it could only fly on test flights undertaken by qualified flight test aircrew – removed any training value for the Squadron.

Above: A Seasprite conducting First of Class Flight Trials aboard HMAS Parramattta in May 2004 (RAN image).

In November 2003 the first Super Seasprite deck landings occurred aboard an Anzac class frigate, followed by First of Class Flight Trials in May the following year.  By late 2004 the aircraft had been granted an Australian Military Type Certification, and by May 2005 progress had been made in the ITAS by the integration of the radar, data-link system and the Penguin missile. Progress was being made, at least in the ITAS, but another bombshell was about to be dropped.

Grounded

In May 2006 Dr Brendan Nelson – the new Defence Minister – announced that the Super Seasprites were to be grounded indefinitely, and their type certification withdrawn, due to concerns with the Automatic Flight Control System (AFCS).

Previous models of the Seasprite were fitted with an analogue Automatic Stabilisation Equipment (ASE), which stabilised the aircraft height, heading and speed to reduce the pilot’s workload.  It was a simplex system: that is, it did not have back-up circuits to check for spurious results and reject them (as the Seahawk does); but in Kaman’s eyes ASE failures were rare and if one occurred the pilot was expected to simply override them and continue the flight manually. Previous iterations of the Seasprite had flown over a million hours with only a few instances of ASE problems, and certainly none considered critical to aircraft safety.

But the two-man crew configuration required a system that would reduce crew workload to a greater extent than ASE had provided, and so a digital AFCS was specified.  Aside from holding the aircraft at a desired height and speed and on a selected heading, the new system was required to fly the aircraft though an automatic approach to a ship (or to the hover), and to fly it over a programmed evolution.   The AFCS still had to work though the ‘old’ flight control configuration, however –  that is, with mechanical linkages between the controls and the rotors, and was still a simplex system.

The fault that grounded the Seasprites was incidents of ‘hard-overs’, when the AFCS spuriously drove one of its control actuators to the end of its travel. Apparently the ASE of earlier types had experienced similar infrequent failures and the pilot had simply disconnected it and continued the flight.   However, the RAN regarded it as a critical fault that could jeopardise the safety of the aircraft in some parts of the flight envelope – such as in the hover, or during landing or departure from a small ship’s deck.

The difference between Kaman’s and the Navy’s differing views came back to the changes Australia had made to the design and modus operandi of the SH2G(A). The reduction to two crew members meant the pilot would already have a high workload, and, distracted by his other duties, may not be able to react in time to save the aircraft in such a failure. (It was estimated that he may only have 0.8 seconds to deal with the fault in a critical flight configuration). Further, the cramped cockpit and the wider ITAS console restricted the amount of cyclic control available to counteract the problem, particularly for pilots with larger frames. This led to anthropomorphic screening of Seasprite aircrew, jokingly referred to as ‘the chook-leg’ requirement to be accepted as a Pilot or TACCO. 

The crash of Sea King Shark 02 at NIAS in 2005 with the loss of nine personnel meant the ADF was in no mood to compromise on safety, and so the Director General of Technical Airworthiness required a complete re-design of the AFCS to meet modern airworthiness standards – despite the original contract accepting, at least by implication, that the original US Navy certification was adequate at the time. And once the airworthiness question was out of the bag other issues, such as the design of the aircraft’s fuel tanks and crew seats to make them more crashworthy, were drawn in.

The consequences of imposing a more contemporary airworthiness certification was staggering – simply put, it is very difficult to achieve unless the aircraft is designed right from the drawing board with those regulations and specifications in mind.  Clearly, the 30+ year old re-engineered Seasprite was not.   As Dr Nelson, the then Defence Minister said in an interview to the Current Affairs progam PM:  ‘In plain language, what we are endeavouring to do with this overly-ambitious program is to fit the equivalent of 2006 Holden electronic technology into an EH. The Super Seasprite is a very good airframe. However, it is one that is aged, and we are trying to fit state of the art technology into it.’[4]

Estimates to rectify the problems – to full civilian type certification – varied considerably.  Kaman estimated $40m, whilst DMO considered $100-200m a more realistic figure.  Looking back, nobody really seemed to know what it would take in terms of money, or to restore confidence in the product.

While these issues were debated the aircraft remained on the ground.  Dr Nelson had reportedly decided to cancel the project but there was a Federal election later that year which may have influenced Cabinet’s decision. To the surprise of many, the Government announced on 25 May 2007 that it had decided to continue the Seasprite project, subject to ‘[ensuring]…that the contractor’s progress is measured against milestones during the course of the additional work.’[5]

In November 2007 when the new Labour Government was elected, one of its first actions was to commission a review of the Super Seasprite project.  By then DMO was forecasting that the aircraft would not enter service before 2011 – a full ten years after the original delivery requirement – and that there was still significant risk it would not meet required standards.  Early the following year Major General Fraser, the Head of the Helicopter Division in DMO, advised a Senate Committee ‘…There is high risk that we are not able to meet contemporary standards, no matter what work we do to this aircraft…. I fully understand the need to bring this aircraft, or to get a capability for Navy, into service. But I am not going to do that and I will not take … unreasonable risks for those who fly and operate the aircraft. So I am going to need to be fully satisfied, in order to bring them into service, that we have fully addressed them.”

By then the entire project was poison.  Nobody had confidence in the aircraft, the capacity of the parties to effectively work together to fix it, or the forecasts of the timeframe to do so. It seemed to many that the dreadful process experienced thus far could continue indefinitely.

The End of the Line

On 5 March 2008 the new Defence Minister announced “After careful consideration of all the issues involved, the Government has decided that it intends to cancel the project. Discussions will be commenced immediately with the contractor in relation to the legal and financial arrangements to facilitate this.”[6]

It was the end of the line.  Kaman gave up $35m in unpaid billings, but kept the 11 airframes and infrastructure back from Australia with a deal to split sale cost 50/50 if they could be sold on the international market.

Above:  Shrink-wraped for their journey, the Seasprites were trucked to Port Kembla where they were loaded aboard a ship bound for the United States. A few months later the Squadron which had been stood up specifically for the Seasprite was decommissioned.  Right.  The white ensign is lowered on 805 Squadron for the fourth time, before being carefully folded and given to the Commanding Officer (Navy image). 

In 2009 an ANAO audit report on Project Sea 1411 concluded the following:

  • the risks associated with the Project were increased by the decision to seek to incorporate extensive capability enhancements into a smaller helicopter than the ANZAC ship is designed to operate;
  • an adequate understanding of the significance of the risks associated with the acquisition was not attained through the requirement definition and tender evaluation processes;
  • inadequacies in cost estimation resulted in a significant shortfall in the approved Project budget which was addressed by reducing the number of helicopters acquired, other cost saving measures that placed the delivery of the desired capability to Navy at additional risk, and through significant expenditure funded from outside the Project budget;
  • financial leverage available through the Prime Contract was ineffectively applied in the early stages of the Project, allowing a large proportion of the funds to be expended despite evidence of schedule slippage and burgeoning risk;
  • the Project Office experienced ongoing difficulties in attracting and retaining appropriately qualified personnel which inhibited its capacity to manage a large and complex project;
  • software and system development activities undertaken by sub-contractors to the Prime Contractor were critical to project success, but DMO had limited contractual capacity to resolve risks as they emerged;
  • the decision to provisionally accept the Super Seasprites in an interim configuration did not deliver the desired outcomes, was poorly implemented and shifted much of the risk associated with the Project to DMO;
  • Defence did not seek to amend the Prime Contract to reflect contemporary ADF airworthiness management practices creating a disparity between contractual and ADF certification requirements which Defence and DMO were ineffective in addressing; and
  • poor contract management practices within Defence and DMO, over the life of the Project, contributed to ongoing contractual uncertainty.

Aftermath

It is fair to say that lessons were learned from the failure of the Seasprite project: indeed, they informed the 2003 Kinnard Review and the 2008 Mortimer review, which in turn informed the ‘Smart Buyer’ framework under which DMO operates today.  It also accelerated decisions to fill the capability gap created by Sea 1411’s failure, which ultimately led to the acquisition of the 24 MH-60R Seahawk Romeos now in service. 

And what of the Seasprite airframes? Eight were subsequently purchased by the New Zealand government in 2013 (reportedly for about A$204m) to replace their ageing SH-2G airframes.   The troublesome AFCS was removed but many of the sensors and weapon systems specified by Australia were retained.  New Zealand retained the three-crewman concept, and the aircraft are performing well.

The Penguin missiles were also sold, with some going to New Zealand. A study had identified that Australia could have fitted them to their existing Seahawk 70Bs, but there was high technical risk for which there was no appetite.

805 Squadron was decommissioned on 26 June 2008, four months after the project’s cancellation.

 


Footnotes:

[1]Minister Ian McLachlan, the then Minister for Defence, 17 Jan 1997. The original RFT sought 14 helicopters with the option of up to nine additional for the OPCs.

[2]The Force Structure & Policy Planning Committee was chaired by the Deputy Secretary Strategy & Intelligence and included the Vice Chief of the Defence Force and other Division heads.

[3]The airframes acquired by the RAN were all ex-USN Navy Reserve aircraft. The first Super Seasprite rolled off the Kaman production line in December 1996. On retirement from the USN in 93/94 they were stored at the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base (Arizona).

[4]Dr Brendan Nelson to Louise Yaxley (reporter) during an interview for PM. The transcript was dated 15 May 2006.

[5]Part of the Media Release of the Hon Dr Brendan Nelson (Defence Minister in 2007) – Seasprite Helicopters 25 May 2007.

[6]Joel Fitzgibbon, Minister for Defence.  To a Senate Defence Committee 05 March 2008.

References:
Australian Defence Magazine – November 2008. ‘Seasprite – What Went Wrong?’ By Gregor Ferguson and Max Blenkin.
SBS News – Seasprite. ‘The Billion Dollar Blunder.’
Defence Industry Daily.
Media Release:  The Hon Dr Brendan Nelson – Seasprite Helicopters 25 May 2007.
ANAO Audit Report No. 41 1998-99.  The Super Seasprite.
ANAO Audit Report No.44 1998-99.  Naval Aviation Force.
‘The SH-2G(A) Super Seasprite AFCS Challenge’, Ms Helen Carson, DGTA.
Rotor & Wing March 5 2008 ‘Australia Scraps Super Seasprite Program.’
Wikipedia.
Fleet Air Arm Association ‘Slipstream’ archive.
Pinterest.
Air Britain Magazine.