Australia may sue U.S. contractor over navy helicopters

Australia's defense minister said Monday Canberra may sue American contractors over software glitches that have grounded a fleet of 11 navy helicopters.

The Australian navy bought the Super Seasprite helicopters from American company Kaman Aerospace in 1997, but the fleet has been grounded indefinitely because of software problems that affect flying at night and in bad weather.

"I have asked the Department of Defense to consider all options including, if appropriate, legal action against the contractors who have not fulfilled their obligations to Australia and to Australian taxpayers," Defense Minister Brendan Nelson told reporters in Melbourne.

"We've been let down seriously by a number of contractors," he added. "We have had delays and essentially as far as I am concerned the software failures we faced in late March have been the straw that's broken the camel's back."

Nelson has said the Australian government is considering scrapping the Super Seasprite project because of safety concerns. A defense review, due by the end of June, may recommend replacing the choppers at a cost of at least 1 billion Australian dollars (US$771 million; Ђ 597 million), matching the original cost of the purchase.

The Australian Defence Association said Monday if the Seasprite project was scrapped, the government would have to try to recover its costs.

"If it does come to that there'll be an interesting lawsuit I suspect between Australia and Kaman Aerospace, because most of the money for the Seasprite program's been paid and yet the operational capability hasn't been delivered yet," ADA executive director Neil James said.

"Unless you start trying to punish some of these defense contractors for not delivering the capability that they were contracted to deliver, you're not really going to solve the problem in the long run."

Opposition defense spokesman Robert McClelland said while the contractor had failed to deliver, the government had to accept responsibility for the project's failure, reports the AP.

I.L.