Defence has provided some details surrounding its potential purchase of 12 additional Lockheed Martin MH-60R Seahawk helicopters, initially reported by ADM earlier in the week.
The Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) announced on 8 October that the US State Department has approved the potential sale of the helicopters to Australia under a deal valued at up to US$985 million. If the deal goes ahead, the helicopters will be delivered in a similar configuration to the RAN’s current fleet of 24 MH-60Rs - albeit fitted for, but without, the primary anti-submarine warfare (ASW) sensor, the Raytheon AQS-22 Airborne Low Frequency Sonar (ALFS) system.
This led to speculation that the additional helicopters, while still being able to be reconfigured for the ASW role if required, were primarily being acquired to replace the Navy’s current NHI MRH 90 Taipans in the shipboard logistics role.
The 2020 Force Structure Plan notes the need to, “Expand and rationalise the support and logistics helicopter fleet consistent with the expectations for larger naval operations,” and allocates between $1 billion and $1.5 billion of funding from 2025 for the purpose.
On 11 October Defence confirmed that additional MH-60Rs are being considered under Project Sea 9100 Phase 1 (Embarked Logistics Support Helicopter Capability).
“With the Navy’s amphibious and afloat support fleet increasing in number and capability, a commensurate growth in the number of aircraft used by Navy in the support helicopter role is required,” a Defence spokesperson said.
“Defence is in the process of preparing project options for Government consideration (but) Government has not yet selected an aircraft for the Navy’s future fleet of support helicopters.”
ADM Comment: The current Logistics Support Helicopter Capability is filled by six MRH 90s, which have a larger cabin than the MH-60R and a rear loading ramp. However, if commonality across the fleet is the driving issue, the Romeo is the only game in town.
The US Navy’s model for its embarked helicopters is to operate a mix of ASW-dedicated MH-60Rs and the similar, but utility-optimised MH-60S helicopters. The latter has a larger cabin volume than the Romeo, but is no longer in production.