PAUL LEWIS / WASHINGTON DC
The US Navy has received preliminary approval to acquire 243 new Sikorsky MH-60R multi-mission naval helicopters from 2005 rather than remanufacture existing Seahawks. Meanwhile, the USN hopes to get final go-ahead by June to start full-rate production of the MH-60S utility version.
The USN leadership has endorsed a revised MH-60R development, test and production schedule, based on all-new helicopters rather than rebuilding and upgrading existing machines as originally planned. The navy expects to have the plan formally signed in January, which will include funding for additional testing and a low-rate initial production (LRIP) purchase of six new helicopters in 2004.
A follow-on procurement of 12 helicopters in 2005 will mark the start of full-rate production, with initial operational capability targeted for the end of that year.
The USN had already funded the conversion of four development machines and a first LRIP batch of five remanufactured helicopters, when it was first decided to abandon rebuilding in favour of all-new MH-60Rs (Flight International, 19-25 June). A further two LRIP rebuild batches were cancelled.
The MH-60R will get new sensors and avionics, but, unlike the original SH-60R plan, new General Electric T700-701C turboshafts, dynamic components, tail rotor and landing gear will be used.
In addition, the USN is funding a study into improved powerplant durability. The navy continues to show interest in the US Army's Common Engine Programme, but is unwilling to further delay the MH-60R while the new powerplant is developed.
MH-60S operational test and evaluation (opeval), meanwhile, is finally under way at NAS Patuxent River after more than two years of delay while a new glass cockpit, which is common to the MH-60R, was debugged. Opeval is focused on three LRIP MH-60S helicopters operated by HMX-1 and will include shipboard operations from the helicopter carrier USS Wasp, vertical replenishment and special forces operations.
The USN, subject to a successful opeval and Secretary of the Navy approval, plans to order 13 aircraft in fiscal year 2002 as part of the US Army's sixth multi-year procurement of UH-60 Black Hawks. Plans then call for 15 more in 2003, 18 in 2004 and 22 in 2005, against a total requirement for 237 helicopters. The USN has already received or has on order 35 MH-60S as part of three earlier LRIP batches.
Source: Flight International