Raytheon has received a contract by the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) to provide three Bell 429 helicopters to develop the skills of junior naval helicopter aircrew, Defence Materiel Minister Jason Clare has said.

“This gives young naval pilots and aircrew the chance to hone their skills before they start flying the new combat helicopters, the MH-60R Seahawks or the new MRH-90 helicopters,” he added.

The $26m contract includes helicopter support and maintenance and is intended to prepare pilots and aircrew for the new Romeo combat helicopters, which will start arriving in 2014.

The helicopters have been leased following the cancellation of the Seasprite project.

RAN’s 723 Squadron is likely to operate the helicopters for four years starting from 2012.