Brazil's navy is to decide in April whether to upgrade or replace its Sikorsky SH-3 Sea King anti-submarine warfare (ASW)and anti-surface vessel warfare (ASuW) helicopters.

In 1998, when the question of the Sea King's future was initially raised, the navy planned to upgrade the helicopters' sensor and weapons suites as well as refurbishing all 13 airframes, rebuilding them to a common standard.

The navy was also planning to install Thales Searchwater 2000 airborne early warning radars in two of the machines, but budget problems have caused numerous delays to the $200 million programme.

Sea King retirement is set for 2010 and delays to the overhaul and upgrade programme have led the navy to consider acquisition of new helicopters. This strategy has been spurred by difficulties in maintaining the Sea King's availability rate.

As a result, the navy is understood to favour the purchase of new aircraft, which would probably lead to a competition for 16 shipborne ASW- and ASuW-capable helicopters that would also have a secondary search-and-rescue role.

If it is decided to order new machines, a request for proposals is expected by the third quarter of this year. with deliveries in 2005-7.

Preliminary contenders are expected to include the AgustaWestland EH101, Eurocopter EC725and Sikorsky S-70B Seahawk.

Source: Flight International