Defence Defence Stephen Smith and Minister for Defence Materiel Jason Clare announced today (16 Jun 2011) that the Australian Government had approved the acquisition of 24MH-60R Seahawk ‘Romeo’ naval combat helicopters at a cost of over $3 billion.
The new helicopters will replace the Navy’s current combat helicopter capability provided by 16 Seahawk S-70B-2 helicopters and will also provide the air to surface strike capability which was to have been provided by the cancelled Seasprite program.
This decision follows a 15-month competitive acquisition process involving the Sikorsky-Lockheed Martin built MH-60R and the NATO Helicopter Industries NH90 NFH assembled by Australian Aerospace.
The helicopters are largely military off-the-shelf built by Sikorsky and Lockheed Martin and will be purchased through the Foreign Military Sales process from the US Navy.
The first two helicopters will arrive in mid-2014 for testing and evaluation with operations expected to commence in mid-2015.
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.
The Government will work with Australian Small-to-Medium Enterprises to identify opportunities to form part of the ‘Romeo’ global supply chain. Although purchased direct from the US under FMS arrangements, there will be support opportunities for local industry and this will fit into the Global Supply Chain deed that LM have signed with Defence.
The Government has established a joint working group between Defence and the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research to progress Australian industry involvement in the project.