Navy May Look to Army's Future Vertical Lift Program for Seahawk Replacement

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MQ-8B Fire Scout and MH-60S Seahawk on USS Coronado
Sailors aboard littoral combat ship USS Coronado (LCS 4) prepare an MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned aircraft, left, and an MH-60S Seahawk helicopter for flight operations at sea, March 19, 2017. (Amy M. Ressler/U.S. Navy)

The Navy is on the hunt for a helicopter to replace its MH-60 Seahawk and MQ-8 Fire Scout -- and it's looking to join the Army's Future Vertical Lift program to find it.

The service published a new request for information Jan. 28 calling on industry to provide information about helicopter solutions that could meet maritime strike needs ranging from anti-submarine warfare to special operations support.

In the new document, Navy officials noted that the need is not just for replacement rotorcraft as the Seahawk and Fire Scout hit retirement age in the 2030s, but also to fill "capability gaps due to the increasingly sophisticated adversary."

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"Identification of solution options for these gaps for a family of manned and unmanned systems is of paramount importance and is expected to support the broad range of decisions associated with the recapitalization of the MH-60 Seahawk helicopters and the MQ-8 Fire Scout Unmanned Air Vehicles systems," the document states.

The Seahawk, which is based on the Army's UH-60 Black Hawk, was introduced into the fleet in 1984 and has the ability to deploy aboard virtually any ship in the Navy's fleet. Its mission set includes anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare, special operations insertion, medical evacuation, replenishment and personnel movement, and search-and-rescue.

The Fire Scout is an unmanned helicopter with a more limited mission set, including reconnaissance and aerial fire support. It entered service in 2009 and has deployed aboard littoral combat ships, among other platforms.

The document emphasizes that replacing these platforms won't be easy or lightly undertaken.

"The MH-60 Seahawk helicopters and the MQ-8 Fire Scout Unmanned Air Vehicles are the pillars of the Naval Helicopter Concept of Operations for the 21st century," it states. "The Warfighting Capability provided, whether deployed as Carrier Air Wing squadrons embarked on aircraft carriers under the leadership of carrier air wing commanders or as Expeditionary squadrons embarked on [amphibious ships], surface combatants and logistics vessels, is broad and unparalleled in naval warfare."

According to the Navy's RFI, the future maritime strike helicopter must be able to accomplish the following missions:

  • Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance and Targeting
  • Surface Warfare
  • Anti-Submarine Warfare
  • Mine Countermeasures
  • Air Warfare
  • Electronic Warfare
  • Search and Rescue
  • Command and Control
  • Special Operations Support
  • Embark Aviation and Air Capable Ships
  • Conduct Logistics
  • Conduct Patient Movement
  • Signature Control

The Navy's RFI follows a new development in the Army's Future Vertical Lift effort to replace its Black Hawk and AH-64 Apache, CH-47 Chinook and OH-58 Kiowa helicopters, all by the 2030s. Competitors for the Black Hawk replacement, called the Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft or FLRAA, include the Bell V-280 Valor tiltrotor aircraft and the Boeing-Sikorsky coaxial rotor Defiant X, unveiled by the companies Jan. 27.

While it's not clear whether either company will seek to adapt its prototype to the Navy's needs, the service is in the process of fielding another tiltrotor aircraft, the CMV-22 Osprey, to replace its C-2 Greyhound carrier onboard delivery planes.

The Navy is asking companies to respond to its RFI by April 13.

"The alternatives will be evaluated for Naval Aviation Contributions across the full range of mission areas," the document adds.

Related: Futuristic 'Defiant X' in Running to Become Army's Long-Range Assault Helicopter

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