Australia will purchase 24 Lockheed Martin/Sikorsky MH-60R ‘Romeo’ naval combat helicopters, with the type having beaten the NH Industries NH90 in a deal worth over A$3 billion ($3.2 billion).
The MH-60R was offered for Australia’s Air 9000 requirement by a team that also includes CAE, General Electric and Raytheon. The aircraft will replace the Royal Australian Navy’s 16 Sikorsky S-70B Seahawks, which have served for 20 years.
Australia has signed a letter of agreement with the USA, with its first two MH-60Rs to arrive in mid-2014 for testing, and operations to commence in 2015. With 24 aircraft, the navy will be able to provide at least eight warships with a helicopter at the same time.
“The 2009 defence White Paper committed the government to equipping naval warships with a new combat helicopter capable of conducting a range of maritime missions with advanced anti-submarine warfare capabilities, and the ability to fire air-to-surface missiles,” said Jason Clare, minister for defence materiel.
Although the MH-60R resembles the S-70B, it provides substantial upgrades in avionics and sensors, with a key addition being Raytheon’s AQS-22 airborne low-frequency sonar. Australian MH-60Rs will also be capable of carrying Raytheon Mk 54 torpedoes, Lockheed AGM-114 Hellfire missiles and machine guns.
The deal follows a 15-month competition between the MH-60R and the NH90.
“The Australian government has chosen the Romeo helicopter because it represents the best value for money for taxpayers and was the lowest risk option,” said Clare.
He noted that the US Navy has already accepted 100 MH-60Rs, which have 90,000 flying hours including operational deployments. Interoperability with the USA is a “significant advantage” for the MH-60R, he added.
The helicopters will be produced in the USA and purchased through the Foreign Military Sales mechanism.