Graham Warwick/BLOOMFIELD

Kaman Aerospace plans to offer an armed-reconnaissance version of its SH-2G Super Seasprite shipborne helicopter for Australia's Air 87 requirement, if the country's defence force decides to acquire a multi-role machine rather than a dedicated attack helicopter - a choice expected to be made later this year.

The possibility of competing for the 20- to 40-aircraft contract is influencing Kaman's plans to put the SH-2 back into production. The Royal Australian Navy has ordered 11 SH-2G(A)s refurbished from ex-USNavy SH-2Fs, but four SH-2G(NZ)s ordered by the Royal New Zealand Navy will combine refurbished dynamic components with new airframes.

With only 24 SH-2Fs remaining in desert storage and several competitions pending for intermediate-weight maritime helicopters, Kaman has a plan in place "-to put all parts back in production", says Michael Bowes, vice-president of engineering. The question remaining is whether to produce the original designs, or improved components, he says.

Driving a decision, Bowes says, is the possibility that the SH-2's gross weight may have to be increased beyond the current 6,100kg for the Air 87 programme. This would require an uprated main-gearbox, making it more attractive to produce a new design. As the gearbox is a long-lead item, a decision is required by the end of 1998, Bowes adds.

Australia is likely to divide Air 87 into two phases covering the acquisition of reconnaissance/fire-support and troop-carrying helicopters. Kaman would offer variants of the SH-2G for both.

The fire-support version would be capable of carrying both the Hughes AGM-65 Maverick and Boeing AGM-114 Hellfire air-to-surface missiles, as well as rocket pods. A chin-mounted slewable gun is being proposed, as is the carriage of two 30mm gun pods. AIM-9 Sidewinder short-range air-to-air missiles could be carried for self-defence.

Kaman delivered the first Super Seasprite to an international customer on 21 October when it handed over the first of ten SH-2G(Es) to the Egyptian air force, for anti-submarine-warfare duties on Egyptian navy frigates. Three aircraft, refurbished SH-2Fs, will be delivered this year for training in the USA, with in-country deliveries to begin in April 1998. Egypt may acquire an additional ten.

New Zealand will receive its first SH-2G in June 2000, with four interim SH-2Fs to be delivered starting in November. Australia's more-advanced aircraft will be delivered from September 2000, and form the basis for any Kaman Air 87 bid. New features in the SH-2G(A) include a "glass" cockpit, digital autopilot and composite main-rotor blades.

Australia plans to solicit interest in project Air 87 in mid-1998, leading to a request for tenders in mid-1999, contract award in mid-2000 and first deliveries in 2002.

Source: Flight International