The Australian Navy will select a new combat helicopter in 2011, with a view to taking initial deliveries in 2014, according to defence minister John Faulkner.

Faulkner said the government had given first pass approval for phase 8 of project AIR 9000, designed to provide naval warships with a new combat helicopter.

“The government has decided that the new helicopter will be either the Sikorsky-Lockheed-Martin-built MH-60R sourced through the US Navy, or the Nato Helicopter Industries NH90 NFH sourced through Australian Aerospace,” he said.

“The new naval combat helicopter will enhance the Royal Australian Navy’s ability to conduct a range of maritime operations and will be capable of undertaking anti-submarine warfare and equipped with air-to-surface missiles.”

According to the defence department the new helicopters will replace the current fleet of Seahawk anti-submarine warfare helicopters and fill an operational need left by the cancellation of the Seasprite project.

The procurement of the new naval combat helicopters is part of the 2009 defence white paper, which demands a fleet of 24 helicopters.