Babcock selects GlobalRanger for Australian special forces bid

Babcock Australia has down-selected Bell’s 429 GlobalRanger as its bidding platform in the Australian Defence Force’s (ADF’s) search for a new special operations helicopter under Project LAND 2097 Phase 4.

The firm announced its decision on May 28, stating that it opted for the 429 after it had “completed a comprehensive assessment of the platforms available in order to provide the most capable, low risk solution.”

Graeme Nayler, managing director of Land at Babcock Australasia, said: “The Bell 429 has a relatively new paramilitary design, with high levels of safety, role flexibility and performance that will me the demands of Australian Special Forces… Working together, Babcock and Bell draw on a global track record of successful helicopter operations to deliver a trusted solution.”

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Bell 429 GlobalRanger - registration YH-MJI (c/n 57043) - in flight. Babcock

The company added that the 429 GlobalRanger would be customised to meet the specific requirements of the programme, using a low risk approach to systems integration.

Managing director of Bell’s Asia Pacific division, David Sale, added that “Bell is in a strong position to offer reliable, cost-effective global support for the ongoing maintenance and sustainment of the ADF’s Special Operations helicopter fleet.

“The Bell 429 is rugged and reliable. It is operationally robust and favoured by pilots and crew throughout the world with more than 330 aircraft exceeding 330,000 hours of operation… With an open architecture system and global support in place, the [platform] has the capacity to perform consistently and adapt rapidly to new technologies and evolving requirements.”

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The Bell 429 GlobalRanger in ADF colours. Babcock

According to Bell, the 429 Global Ranger features the company’s BasiX-ProTM integrated avionics system. At its MGW, the helicopter can reach speeds of up to 172mph (278km/h) and has a range of 473 miles (761km). It requires a single pilot and has a capacity for up to seven passengers. The platform has a service ceiling of 20,000ft (6,096m) with a total endurance of four and a half hours.

According to a request for information (RFI) – released in November 2018 – Project LAND 2097 Phase 4 seeks to procure up to 16 proven, commercial- or military-off-the-shelf light helicopters to “enhance the ADF Special Operations Aviation Capability.”

It adds that the desired platform must be “optimised for operating in dense urban environments” and can be rapidly deployed by a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Boeing C-17A Globemaster III heavy-lift strategic transport. The requirements also detail that the helicopter should have simple, proven intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) equipment and weapons systems.

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Troops rope in from a special operations-configured 429 GlobalRanger. Babcock

The aircraft will be used in domestic/maritime counter terrorism, combat search and rescue (CSAR) and special forces insertion/extraction missions. Australia’s desired platform will augment the ADF’s NHIndustries MRH-90 Taipan fleet in replacing its Sikorsky S-70A-9 Black Hawk helicopters, which are currently employed in the role. Deliveries of the preferred solution are scheduled to begin in 2022, with a request for tender expected by the end of this year.

Australia’s Project LAND 2097 Phase 4 campaign is gaining pace as manufacturers continue to make bids in the project. Hawker Pacific – having also teamed up with Bell – are also pitching the GlobalRanger, along with the 407GXi light helicopters. Airbus Helicopters is bidding for the contract with its H145M, Boeing is pitching its AH-6i Little Bird and Leonardo Helicopters will offer the AW109M Trekker. 

As per AirForces Intelligence, examples of the GlobalRanger are in operational service with the Indonesian Police Flight Division, Jamaica Defence Force, the Kuwait Police/Ministry of Interior, the Slovak Ministry of Interior – Aviation Unit, Royal Air Force of Oman, Royal Thai Police, Tunisian National Guard and the Turkish National Police. The Royal Australian Navy’s (RAN’s) 723 Squadron operated four Bell 429s under lease from Raytheon Australia until April 18, 2019. In RAN service, the helicopter was employed in a training role.