Super Seasprite Helicopter : Senator Robert Hill's Billion Dollar Blunder


In 2002 the Idiot we have as minister for Defence Senator Robert Hill or "Hamburger Hill" as he is known unbelievably spent over US$1bn of Australian taxpayers money on 11 choppers, some of which had 40 year old airframes - Veterans of the Vietnam War... hard as it to believe this idiocy was topped recently by his even more crazy decision by buy 2nd-hand clapped out 66 tonne DU contaminated Abrams M-1 tanks.

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1. SBS Dateline Program

Seasprite - The Billion Dollar Blunder

Australia's prominent role in the war on terror has led to calls for increased spending on defence. But tonight's story - on how Australia forked out over $1 billion for helicopters which are literally museum pieces - raises serious questions about how the defence budget is being managed. Thom Cookes has more.

REPORTER: Thom Cookes

This scout troop is on an outing to a naval museum just outside of Washington DC. A retired marine sergeant is giving them a guided tour of one of the museum's prize exhibits.

MARINE SERGEANT: Now we'll tell you a little bit about the Seasprite here. This particular bird is a sub-hunter. This thing had a great history in its flight time, and it was retired here to the museum.

[REPORTER:] The Seasprite naval helicopter, first flown in the 1950s, is now a museum piece in the United States. It was phased out of service from the early '90s and by 2001 the US had put its few remaining Seasprites into storage. But remarkably, the Royal Australian Navy has spent over $1 billion on these museum pieces. It bought 11 of the ageing helicopters and has spent the last seven years trying to convert them into state-of-the-art war machines.

Most are older than the Seasprite on display in the US and some even flew in the Vietnam War.

The Australian Defence Department has a long history of embarrassing blunders on major projects, but the story of the Seasprite helicopter is possibly the most shocking to emerge so far.

* * * *

Aldo Borgu is a former adviser to three coalition defence ministers and is now an analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. He explains how the Seasprite project came about.

ALDO BORGU: Certainly the major requirement was because we actually had a smaller ship, the offshore patrol combatant, or offshore patrol vessel, which we were basically putting together jointly with Malaysia, it couldn't carry a Seahawk helicopter, which can be carried on the Anzac frigate, so if we were proceeding just with the Anzacs, we probably would have gone for the existing Seahawk helicopter, but because we also had this smaller ship, which was banking on the fact that the Malaysians would buy it so we'd have a joint development program, we needed a smaller size helicopter which would have been either the Seasprite or the Westland Lynx.

[REPORTER:]Being small was the one thing the Seasprite had going for it. This is the offshore patrol vessel designed for the joint Malaysian -Australian project. The size of this rear helicopter deck meant that Australia's existing Seahawk helicopters would be too large to land on the ship. Under questioning in Senate Estimates hearings, defence officials admitted that this was the sole reason the Seasprite was bought.


REPORTER: Why do you think the Defence Department went ahead with the Seasprite even though the offshore patrol vessel was cancelled?

SENATOR CHRIS EVANS: Look, it's a complete mystery to me. There's been no proper explanation of that. The helicopter was designed for a ship that was cancelled, but we went ahead and ordered the helicopter, even though the capability was no longer going to be purchased.

The Defence Department was unable to provide anyone for an interview with Dateline, but it's previously claimed that once it had signed the Seasprite contract, there was no going back.

Super Seasprite Helicopter : Senator Robert Hill's Billion Dollar Blunder

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