• The RAN is acquiring an additional 12 Lockheed Martin MH-60R Seahawk naval combat helicopters. (Defence)
    The RAN is acquiring an additional 12 Lockheed Martin MH-60R Seahawk naval combat helicopters. (Defence)

The US State Department has approved the potential sale of an additional 12 Lockheed Martin MH-60R Seahawk naval combat helicopters to the Royal Australian Navy (RAN).

The approval, announced by the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) on 8 October, covers 12 helicopters, equipment, training and related services and is valued at US$985 million.

Some of the equipment included in the proposed deal are: 30 General Electric T700-GE-401C engines (24 installed and six spares); 12 Telephonics APS-153(v) Multi-Mode Radars; 12 Raytheon AAS-44C(v) Multi-Spectral Targeting Systems; 20 Link 16 Multifunctional Information Distribution Systems (MIDS); 12 Airborne Low Frequency Sonars (ALFS) – albeit ‘aircraft provisions only’; 18 Northrop Grumman AAR-47 Missile Approach Warning Systems (MAWS); 18 BAE Systems ALE-47 chaff and flare dispensers/ECM; 12 Lockheed Martin ALQ-210 Electronic Support Measures (ESM) systems; 24 M299 Missile Launchers; 12 GAU-21 door guns and 18 L3 ARQ-59 Hawklink terminals.

The RAN currently operates 24 MH-60R Seahawks in the naval combat helicopter role, sufficient to provide eight flights (of a single helicopter) at sea and concurrently deliver shore based training and operational tasking. They are shore-based at HMAS Albatross, near Nowra and serve with 725 and 816 Squadrons.

With the number of Navy surface combatants set to increase in coming years more flights at sea will be needed, but the RAN also has a requirement to phase out its six NHI MRH 90 Multi Role Helicopters, which are operated in the utility role from some of its larger surface ships.

Whether these additional ‘Romeos’ are intended to replace the MRH 90s in the shipboard utility role (albeit readily re-configurable to ASW/ASuW roles), or whether they are being acquired to bolster the existing combat helicopter remains to be seen. The notification that only aircraft provisions for the ALFS sonar system – the primary ASW sensor – are included in the deal, would seem to indicate the RAN intends to rotate aircraft between roles.

The recent Force Structure Plan 2020 calls for both an ‘expansion and rationalisation of the support and logistics helicopter fleet consistent with the expectations for larger naval operations’ and continued investments in ‘acquisition and through-life upgrades of the MH-60R anti-submarine helicopter’.

Interestingly the DSCA notification notes the additional helicopters will, “Improve Australia’s capability to perform anti-surface and anti-submarine warfare missions along with the ability to perform secondary missions including vertical replenishment, search and rescue, and communications relay.”

ADM has contacted Defence and will update this story as further information comes to hand.

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