In a massive infrastructure boost, the Australian Government has earmarked $700 million for the renovation of RAAF Base Townsville. This substantial investment follows the base’s designation as the future hub for Australia’s incoming squadron of 29 AH-64E Apaches, which are expected to arrive from 2025.
The funding will facilitate vital upgrades and the creation of new facilities at the base, thereby catering to the needs of the state-of-the-art helicopters and their crew members. This decision comes on the heels of the previous Coalition Federal Government’s green light on the Apache acquisition, a move made just prior to last year’s election and intended to replace the underperforming Tiger helicopters.
Defence officials announced over the weekend that Army’s 1st Aviation Regiment will progressively transition to Townsville from its current location in Darwin. The unit will continue operating the ARH Tiger until it’s officially phased out in 2028.
Richard Marles, Deputy Prime Minister, praised the Apache as the “most sophisticated helicopter in operation today”. He stated, “Our considerable investment in updating and constructing new facilities at RAAF Townsville will guarantee that Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel and civilians working with the Apache have the requisite infrastructure to uphold these vital capabilities.”
The relocation also means that Boeing Australia will shoulder the maintenance support for the Apache and Chinook helicopters. Elsewhere in Australia – specifically in Sydney, Nowra, and Southeast Queensland – Lockheed Martin Australia and Sikorsky Australia will undertake the maintenance of the UH-60M Black Hawk and MH-60R Sea Hawk helicopters.
The AH-64E Apache is widely recognized as one of the globe’s most sophisticated multi-role combat helicopters and is integral to the US Army’s attack helicopter fleet. It is also used by an increasing number of international defence forces. As per Boeing, almost 1,300 Apaches are in global operation, clocking in over five million flight hours, with 1.3 million of these being in combat.
Boeing’s AH-64E variant will be in production until at least 2028 and is expected to be the cornerstone of the US’s attack helicopter force until the 2060s. Although Boeing supplied the first Apache to the US back in January 1984, the aircraft took its inaugural flight in 1975.
Relocating to Townsville represents a part of a significant reshuffling of Australia’s helicopter fleet. Last January, the former Coalition Federal Government approved the acquisition of 40 UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters. The succeeding Labor government further augmented the fleet by adding 12 MH-60R Seahawk/Romeos, bringing the total future fleet count to 36.
Moreover, Defence also commissioned an additional four Chinooks for an estimated $595 million, with the first pair having arrived in July 2021. These strategic purchases come in the wake of a critical 2016 National Audit Office report, which highlighted 76 “capability deficiencies” in the existing Tiger fleet, including 60 critical issues. Subsequent disclosures indicated that only a fraction of the Tiger aircraft were flyable on any given day in 2015.