The HMAS Albatross air station in the Shoalhaven region of NSW will receive a major upgrade as part of the Royal Australian Navy’s acquisition of a new batch of naval combat helicopters.
The air station is currently home to five Navy aircraft squadrons as well as the headquarters of the Fleet Air Arm. Located adjacent to the base is the Fleet Air Arm Museum, which is currently closed except for pre-arranged tours, and the Albatross Aviation Technology Park on the western side of the airfield.
The $124 million project will upgrade much of the airfield’s infrastructure, including resurfaced runway, taxiways and ramp areas, airfield lighting upgrades and stormwater drain repairs.
The work will be conducted by BMD Construction Group and will commence in September. It is expected to take about 18 months and at its peak is expected to have a daily workforce of about 120 contractors, most of whom are from the Shoalhaven and Illawarra areas.
The base’s fleet of aircraft is expected to grow from early 2025 with the acquisition of an additional squadron of Sikorsky MH-60R Romeo Seahawk naval combat helicopters. The Navy currently operates 23 MH-60Rs from the original 24 it acquired last decade.
The Romeos are operated by 725 Squadron, which is the Navy’s training squadron, and 816 Squadron, which is the operational squadron.
The raise, train and sustain effort of the two squadrons typically has eight Romeos available for deployment or deployed aboard major surface ships at a time, with eight more being used for training, and the remainder in various stages of maintenance.
The 13 new MH-60Rs – a squadron of 12 aircraft plus one to replace an aircraft lost at sea in October 2021 – are being acquired via the Project SEA 9100 Phase 1 Embarked Logistics Support Helicopter Capability requirement. They will enter service with 808 Squadron which, until 2021, operated the MRH 90 Taipan helicopter in the fleet support role.
“This significant investment in HMAS Albatross demonstrates the government’s strong commitment to the Shoalhaven as a vital Defence aviation hub for the nation,” Minister for Defence Industry Pat Conroy said in a 22 August release.
“This airfield upgrade will support the expansion of the Navy’s Romeo helicopter fleet, which will grow the region’s world-class defence industry, involved in helicopter maintenance, support and logistics.”
Member for Gilmore Fiona Phillips added, “Nowra is a proud Navy town. This is an exciting project for Nowra and across our region, which will inject more than $100 million into our regional economy.”
Also based at Albatross is 723 Squadron, which operates 15 Airbus EC-135T2+ helicopters in the training role. These helicopters are used to transition pilots and aircrew members from fixed-wing aircraft to helicopter flying. 723 Squadron also operates sophisticated aircraft simulators and full-scale training aids designed to replicate the EC-135’s cabin for the training of non-pilot aircrew.
The Navy’s uncrewed aircraft systems (UAS) are currently operated by 822X Squadron, which was established as a semi-operational unit in October 2018 to trial a small fleet of various UAS types as part of the Navy’s wider effort to acquire a larger fleet of operational UAS for its ships.
822X Squadron currently operates a small number of fixed-wing Insitu ScanEagle and rotary-wing Schiebel Camcopter S-100 UAS – both of which are about the size of a motorcycle – and has occasionally deployed these systems to sea for exercises and operational cruises as part of its developmental tasks.
Across the runway is the Albatross Aviation Technology Park which is home to Sikorsky Australia, Raytheon Australia, QinetiQ Air Affairs Australia and Kratos Defence Australia.
Sikorsky Australia provides sustainment to the Navy’s MH-60R fleet and has a large warehouse facility and a hangar with several workshops capable of housing six Romeos at a time.
QinetiQ Air Affairs Australia operates a fleet of about a dozen Bombardier Learjet aircraft in the Defence support role. These aircraft can tow aerial targets, can simulate anti-ship missiles in the fleet support role, and can carry electronic warfare equipment.
Also based at Albatross are two CASA/Airbus C-212 transports operated by Skytraders on behalf of the Australian Defence Force Parachuting School. The school is an Australian Army unit that provides parachute training and the development of doctrine and techniques, and conducts equipment trials.