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


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

ALDO BORGU: Once we decided we don't need the offshore patrol vessel anymore, we should have decided we don't need the Seasprite anymore and just gone with a far more simpler solution in terms of getting additional Seahawk helicopters. There is this point about once a project gets approved, certainly by Cabinet, let alone moving into the acquisition phase, I don't think Defence naturally doesn't want to walk away from it, bird in the hand worth two in the bush type scenario, but the problem is that's irrespective of how many problems it actually comes up against. I've never met a project that Defence didn't like.

[REPORTER:]Undeterred by no longer having the ship it was designed for Defence went ahead with the Seasprite and was given two options by the manufacturer, Kaman Aerospace. Kaman could either restart its production line and build totally new helicopters or it could hunt around for old Seasprites that had been retired and rebuild them. Defence chose this cheaper second option. But as Opposition Defence Spokesman Chris Evans discovered, these old airframes were not entirely up to scratch.

SENATOR CHRIS EVANS: The contractor, in order to meet your specifications, has decided that some of these frames, up to 70%, has to be replaced - is that fair?

* * * *

SENATOR CHRIS EVANS: Okay. What sorts of hours would these airframes already have flown? Did any of them serve in the Vietnam War, by the way? Did any of
them fly in the Vietnam War?

AIR VICE MARSHALL CONROY: From their build dates, it would appear so. In fact, according to Defence, some of the Seasprite air frames date back to 1963 and have already been rebuilt at least twice.

AIR VICE MARSHALL CONROY: The air frames themselves were stored at a US storage facility and the Commonwealth sent a team of experts, engineering experts, to pick those air frames that were in the best condition.

[REPORTER:] AMARC, or the Aircraft Maintenance and Regeneration Centre, is a massive parking lot where the US keeps aircraft it no longer has any use for. There are almost 4,500 planes and helicopters stored out here in the Arizona desert. It's hard to find a more graphic display of military might and the amount of money that the US is prepared to spend on defence. These B1-B nuclear bombers were virtually redundant from the first day they were flown. They cost around US$300 million a piece and there are 18 of them in mothballs here.

LARRY KOTZ: I don't think I want to know how much those things are worth out there. As a taxpayer, I just don't want to know. Larry Kotz has an office on the edge of AMARC and makes a living buying up old military aircraft for either parts or scrap. He's currently working over these C-141 transport jets.

* * * *

[REPORTER:] Dateline has established from US Defence Department records that when these choppers were put into storage, they were each valued at around $600,000 American. By the time the Australian project is finished, we'll have effectively spent around $100 million getting each one of our 11 Seasprites into the air.

It may be a $1 billion project for Australia, but US records show that since the early '90s the United States has been trying to give away its old Seasprites as part of military aid packages. Despite the fact that the Americans were offering free helicopters, in at least three cases they were knocked back - Greece in 1993, Turkey in 1994 and Thailand in 1997.

REPORTER: Did you know that the United States has been trying to give away the Seasprite to a number of countries?

SENATOR CHRIS EVANS: No, I didn't know that. I suppose it shouldn't surprise me. But this is just the final nail, I suppose, in the coffin of the story.

[REPORTER:] But Defence sources claim that the most serious blunder with the Seasprite are the sophisticated electronics and weapons that Australia has tried to cram into a 1950s design. Australia's Seasprites are being fitted with advanced systems that allow the helicopter to be flown by a crew of two instead of three and to find and destroy targets without the help of a mothership.

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

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