New Zealand to obtain eight SH-2G (I) Super Seasprites

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New Zealand will acquire eight Kaman SH-2G (I) Super Seasprite naval helicopters, with two additional airframes to be purchased as spares.

The total package is worth NZ$242 million ($204 million) and includes a full motion simulator, Penguin anti-ship missiles and additional components, the New Zealand government said in a statement.

"This package from Kaman Aerospace will provide the Navy with an upgraded variant, the Seasprite SH-2G (I), and increase the fleet from five to eight helicopters," says defence minister Jonathan Coleman. "It will allow helicopters to be embarked on the two ANZAC-class frigates [Te Mana and Te Kaha] as well as the offshore patrol vessels and the multi-role ship HMNZS Canterbury."

Wellington's current fleet of five SH-2Gs have been in service since the late 1990s and will be retired.

The airframes were originally built for Australia, but in 2009, Canberra cancelled the contract after cost overruns and persistent technical issues.

"The New Zealand Defence Force and Ministry of Defence officials are acutely aware that the Australian government decided not to fully introduce these aircraft into service after concerns about a range of technical issues," says Coleman.

"As a consequence the New Zealand Ministry of Defence has invested considerable resources into examining all aspects of this project over the last two years. This included commissioning an independent study by Marinvent Corporation of Canada."

The airframes are in storage in Connecticut, and Wellington will receive the entire complement of aircraft between 2014-2016. New Zealand's defence ministry says they will have a service life "out to 2030".

Coleman says the navy requires a larger fleet of Seasprites, given that five New Zealand navy ships can operate a helicopter. The present fleet of five SH-2Gs means only two helicopters can be deployed simultaneously. Having more aircraft available will allow Wellington to get "full value" from its ship investments.

Aside from new communications equipment and sensors, the SH-2G (I) helicopters will be armed with the Kongsberg Penguin anti-ship missile. The ministry says this weapon is superior in the anti-shipping role to the Raytheon AGM-65 Maverick used by New Zealand's SH-2Gs.

Canberra scrapped its Seasprite acquisition in March 2008 with the project seven years late and 47% over budget.

It ordered 11 upgraded former US Navy SH-2Fs in 1997 under a A$746 million deal with Kaman, and had expected deliveries from 2001. But problems, primarily with the aircraft's integrated tactical avionics system (ITAS), forced it to provisionally accept nine aircraft from 2003 in an interim configuration. These were grounded by March 2006 due to automatic flight control system problems.

"A key issue was the Australian Defence Force specified an aircraft that could be flown by a two-person crew and have a computer flight system that could operate the aircraft with 'no hands' on the controls," says New Zealand's defence ministry.

"[New Zealand] has a different requirement. It will operate the aircraft with a three-person crew, as is current practice with its standard operating procedure for pilots to retain a hold on the controls at all times. The 'no-hands' requirement is not being adopted."

Of the acquisition's total cost of NZ$242 million, NZ$147 million covers the eight operational aircraft, with the balance covering the remainder of the package.