Monday, April 23, 2012

MH-60R Wins Australia’s Maritime Helicopter Competition

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Australia’s SEA 8000, Phase 8 project aimed to buy 24 modern naval helicopters. They would replace its 16 existing S-70B-2 naval helicopters, and might even replace thedisastrous A$1.1 billion, 11-helicopter SH-2G “Super Seasprite” acquisition attempt as well. With a total sales and support value of over A$ 3 billion, it was a highly coveted award.
The finalists were familiar, and both had roots in Australia. Sikorsky’s MH-60R is a modernized descendant of the RAN’s existing S-70Bs anti-submarine helicopters, and Australia’s army operates the S-70A utility helicopter. On the other hand, a multi-billion dollar 2006 order made the European NH90-TTH (“MRH-90”) the Army’s future helicopter, to replace their S-70As and H-3 Sea Kings. Some MRH-90s will even serve as Navy utility helicopters, and NHI/Eurocopter’s NH90-NFH naval variant would build on that base. So why did the MH-60R make Australia its 1st export win?

Australia’s Winner

HMAS Perth+
Upgraded HMAS Perth
A combination of problems with its “MRH-90s,” slow NH90 TTH development, MH-60R naval interoperability benefits with Australia’s principal ally, and the MH-60R’s low-risk already-operational status tipped the balance.
The first 2 MH-60Rs will arrive in mid-2014 for testing and evaluation, with mid-2015 the target for operational status. Australia’s DoD states that the fleet of 24 will:
”...provide at least eight warships with a combat helicopter at the same time, including ANZAC Class frigates [8 bought] and the new Air Warfare Destroyers [3 bought]. The remainder will be based at HMAS Albatross in Nowra, New South Wales, and will be in various stages of the regular maintenance and training cycle.”
Note that warships are almost never at sea at one time. There’s a regular cycle of maintenance and training, as well as deployments, which means that the helicopters can rotate among ships as they enter training & service stages. Unless the 4-ship Improved Adelaide Class is added to this mix, however, the decision as discussed does raise the question of how to equip Australia’sexpensively-upgraded FFG-7 frigates with naval helicopters. One option may involve some sort of service-extension program for the existing S-70B-2s, whether through refurbishment, or by rotating a larger pool of S-70Bs among a small set of operational ships.

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