Boost for the Indian Navy as Sikorsky begins delivery of MH-60R Seahawk choppers - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Saturday 17 July 2021

Boost for the Indian Navy as Sikorsky begins delivery of MH-60R Seahawk choppers

Two Seahawks handed over to the Indian Navy, four more this year

By Ajai Shukla

Business Standard, 17th July 21


The Indian Navy was handed over its first two MH-60R Seahawk multi-role helicopters (MRHs) in a ceremony held at San Diego, USA on Friday.


The helicopters, which are the first of 24 Seahawks contracted last year by the Indian Navy for $2.12 billion, were formally accepted by Taranjit Singh Sandhu, India’s ambassador to the US. Another four Seahawks are expected to be delivered this year by Sikorsky Helicopters, which is a part of the world’s largest defence firm, Lockheed Martin.


These MRH’s will operate off naval warship decks to perform a range of combat missions. These include anti-submarine warfare (ASW), anti-surface warfare (ASuW), combat search and rescue (CSAR), vertical replenishment (VERTREP) and medical evacuation (MEDEVAC). The Seahawk is also designed to fly in Special Forces teams into enemy territory for commando missions.

The Seahawk fires a Hellfire missile

“MH-60R… is an all-weather helicopter designed to support multiple missions with state-of-the-art avionics and sensors. The helicopters would also be modified with several India unique equipment and weapons. In order to exploit these potent helicopters, the first batch of Indian crew are presently undergoing training in USA,” stated the Indian Navy on Saturday.


Introduced into the US Navy in 2006, there are over 300 Seahawks in service worldwide, including in the US, Danish, Australian and Saudi Arabian navies.


According to Lockheed Martin, the Seahawk has a 98 per cent mission availability rate and the lowest life-cycle cost in its class, costing less than $5,000 for each flying hour.


“MH-60R is the most advanced maritime multi-mission helicopter in operation - deployed globally, and its mission performance by far, second to none. We appreciate the tremendous confidence placed in Team Seahawk by the Indian Navy through their selection of the Romeo,” said William L. Blair, chief of Lockheed Martin India.


Successive Indian Navy chiefs have identified the shortage of MRHs as one of the navy’s biggest operational deficits. Presently, the navy makes do with barely 10 Seaking Mark 42B/C helicopters that are decades old. As the Seakings retired, helicopter hangars on board the navy’s aircraft carriers, destroyers and frigates emptied, severely reducing the warships’ combat capability.


Given this shortfall, the navy contracted for 24 MH-60R Seahawks in fully-built condition under the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) programme. This is a US-led process that involves no tendering. Instead, the Pentagon acts as an agent of the buyer (the Indian Navy), and negotiates price and supply terms with the US vendor (in this case, Lockheed Martin).


FMS procurements come with US government guarantees on weapons and equipment performance. In many FMS purchases, the foreign buyer manages to procure the equipment for less than what the US military paid, since the Pentagon benchmarks the price to what the US military paid for its last procurement of that equipment.


Alongside the FMS purchase of 24 Seahawks, tendering is under way for another 99 Seahawks that are proposed to be built in India through the Strategic Partner (SP) route. 


The procurement of 24 Seahawks was cleared by the defence ministry on August 25, 2018. On April 2, 2019 the Pentagon notified the US Congress about the potential sale “for an estimated cost of $2.6 billion”.


According to the Pentagon notification, the sale is for 24 fully kitted and armed helicopters, along with 12 spare engines, six spare multi-mode radars and six multi-spectral targeting systems. Also included are 1,000 sonobuoys, or portable sonar systems, for detecting enemy submarines; and Hellfire missiles, rockets and torpedoes to destroy surface and sub-surface targets.


A range of communications equipment is also included, the transfer of which is now enabled by the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) that New Delhi and Washington signed in September 2018.

Sikorsky has a storied history in helicopter development. In 1957, it built the first helicopter to carry a US president – Dwight D Eisenhower. Even today, the US president’s helicopter, designated “Marine One”, is a Sikorsky machine. The famed UH-60 Black Hawk, a stealth variant of which was used in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan, is built by Sikorsky. 


In a separate, ongoing, navy procurement for 111 naval utility helicopters, Lockheed Martin is offering its smaller Sikorsky S-76 helicopter. 

1 comment:

  1. What about helicopters for the Army? The Army needs helicopters for medical evacuation. At Galwan, 20 Indian soldiers died compared to 4 Chinese soldiers because the helicopters were not available to evacuate the injured men. They had to stay in the mountains over night. Without helicopters a war in Eastern Ladakh will be a catastrophe early on.


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