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A 60-strong parachute surgical team and their equipment will be flown to Sabang from Jakarta at dawn on two C-130 Hercules transports in time to meet the Kanimbla as it passes on its way to west Sumatra from Singapore.
"There is only a short window of opportunity for the team to meet up with the ship," Australian defence attache Brigadier Ken Brownrigg said.
"If we get them on board, then the Kanimbla will arrive on Saturday with a surgical capability ready to go."
The team arrived in Jakarta last night on an RAAF 707. The specialist medics are trained to go into battle alongside Australia's elite parachute brigade soldiers.
The Sea King helicopter had been ferrying an emergency medical team from the Kanimbla to the village as part of relief efforts to outlying areas of Nias following a devastating earthquake on Monday.
The helicopter crashed on approach to land, Kanimbla captain Commander George McGuire told journalists who had been on board the Kanimbla for a media tour.
He said two on board the helicopter survived and were airlifted to the Kanimbla for emergency surgery by the ship's second helicopter, which landed with a medical team after seeing smoke from the crash site.
The safety of Australia's ageing navy helicopters will be a key focus of the investigation into the deaths of nine Australians on a mercy flight to Indonesia's quake ravaged Nias island.
The Howard government is facing heavy criticism for allowing the 30-year-old Sea King choppers to remain in service, despite long-standing concerns the ageing aircraft are too old to be safe.
Witnesses told how the engine of the Sea King involved in the crash seemed to die moments before the chopper plunged nose-first into the ground, erupting into a fireball.
Singapore's aerospace conference showcased a plethora of civilian and military hardware at the Changi Exhibition Centre in February. Nine hundred exhibitors offered a high-tech selection of weapons, executive jets, supersonic stealth fighters - even spacecraft design.
Senator Robert Hill, a newcomer to this secret world of defence business, was soaking it in as he strolled the exhibit's aisles, until he stumbled across Kaman Aerospace's stand. He froze.
In pride of place was a poster of its Seasprite helicopter, with the declaration "The right choice for the Royal Australian Navy". According to bystanders, the unfortunate salesman had just begun his spiel when Senator Hill informed him he was no less than the Australian Defence Minister and was far from convinced the navy had made the right choice when it signed up with Kaman to supply 11 Seasprite helicopters. Costs had blown out to more than $1 billion, he told the startled salesman, and the project was running three years late - if Kaman could deliver at all.
*cut to last paragraph, by me*
"You can't dispute it's the wrong helicopter," Mr Borgu said. "There are obvious question marks over the Penguin anti-ship missile as opposed to the Harpoon, and the anti-sub capability isn't as good as the Seahawks. We should have got the Seahawks. On balance the ADF would have been better off."
Defence authorities have acknowledged serious problems have been uncovered in Australia's $1.1 billion squadron of Seasprite naval helicopters, leaving them unable to fly crucial missions.
The problems have emerged in extensive testing of the squadron of 11 helicopters costing $100 million each - more than the latest Stealth fighter.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported yesterday that the helicopters could not be used in murky weather when the pilots' external vision was impaired.
According to the paper, they have been restricted to simple tasks such as delivering stores and transporting passengers, and then only in good weather. It said military missions such as search and rescue and training simulations of difficult combat scenarios could not be undertaken by the Seasprites as yet.
Defence and aviation sources were reported as saying up to 40 deficiencies were exposed during testing, and one insider described the machines as "next to useless". They are also three years late.
Australia bought the 11 choppers, some of them more than 40 years old, to equip them with new weaponry and deploy on the new Anzac frigates.
The first one is due to go to sea on the frigate HMAS Ballarat in six to eight weeks, well before the testing program is completed. Australia so far has eight of the 11 helicopters. Another two are being assembled at Nowra in NSW and one is still being used for training in the US.
Defence Minister Robert Hill yesterday defended the performance of the troubled squadron, saying the tests were part of a normal upgrade process that would be finished at the end of this year.
One of the Seasprites was a standing exhibit yesterday at the Australian International Airshow at Avalon. Parked on the tarmac with its potent Penguin Mk.2 missile nearby, it drew a steady stream of onlookers.
The deputy commander of the Seasprites 805 squadron at HMAS Albatross, Lieutenant-Commander Ian Parrott, was there to explain its features.
Looking into the cockpit, he described the array of technical controls as "far more complex than a Hornet (the F/A-18 fighter)". But Commander Parrott, with 4500 flying hours behind him, expressed excitement about the "phenomenal new capabilities" the helicopter brings to Australia's defences.
"At the end of the day, it's going to be a fabulous aircraft," he said. "In all flight test programs, you do find little nuances that came out, and we found a few problems with this aircraft."
Describing the deficiencies as being to do with engineering issues, Commander Parrott said they were being worked on by Australian experts as well as the original equipment manufacturer, Kammen Aerospace International.
He expected that a new software program to be installed later in the year would allow further testing that could gain the Seasprite its full certification, meaning it is a finished product for the navy.
The Defence Department yesterday said some elements of the Seasprite project had been misrepresented in The Sydney Morning Herald. It said Defence expected to receive a certified helicopter later this year, when it would fulfil all of its planned roles, including search and rescue operations in poor visibility.
But it acknowledged "working through a range of issues that are expected to be rectified or mitigated".
The public's interest in military aircraft is high, judging by the crowds of 80,000 to 90,000 who flocked to Avalon yesterday for the six-hour flying display.
The show, which is on again today, includes aerobatics as well as performances by military helicopters and fighters such as the Hornet, the F-15 and F-16 and the ageing "aardvark", the F-111.