The Australian navy will buy 24 MH-60R Seahawks for use as its new "multi-role combat aircraft," the Navy announced Thursday, a coup for U.S. foreign military sales, Sikorsky, Lockheed Martin and the other big vendors that help build the aircraft. It's the first time a foreign customer has opted for the R-model Seahawk, and it's the culmination of a big push by the Navy and its "industry partners," in the Pentagon phrase, to get the latest, newest American naval helicopter out into the hands of a key Pacific ally.
“The MH-60R Romeo helicopter will fill a critical maritime warfare capability for the Royal Australian Navy,” said Rear Adm. Steven R. Eastburg, the Program Executive Officer, Air, ASW, Assault and Special Mission programs, in the Navy's announcement. “U.S. naval forces have found the Romeo platform to be an operationally effective and reliable first responder for all missions and contingencies encountered at sea around the world.”
The $3 billion deal also gives Lockheed a new foothold in Australia, as the company said in its announcement: "Team Romeo principals Sikorsky Aircraft Corp., a subsidiary of United Technologies Corp. and Lockheed Martin have co-developed and delivered maritime helicopters for the U.S. Navy for more than 35 years. They are teamed with engine manufacturer GE Aviation, sonar and sensor provider Raytheon Company, and training and simulator provider CAE for the Phase 8 competition. In addition to delivering Romeo helicopters, the team plans to bring long-term jobs and work opportunities to Australian industry valued at $1.5 billion over 10 years."
The defense industry hopes that anti-submarine warfare equipment remains a growth market around the Pacific, as navies feel they must update their fleets to keep pace with China's growing sub fleet. Or as Australia's Department of Defence put it in its own announcement:
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. This announcement delivers on that commitment ...According to the deal, the Aussies will get their first helos in 2014.
Acquisition of 24 ‘Romeos’ means that Navy will have the capacity to provide at least eight warships with a combat helicopter at the same time, including ANZAC Class frigates and the new Air Warfare Destroyers. 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. They will be equipped with a highly sophisticated combat systems designed to employ Hellfire air-to-surface missile and the Mark 54 anti-submarine torpedo.