Sikorsky to deliver MH-60R to Indian Navy earlier than expected enhancing sub hunting capability to counter China

The Royal Australian Navy’s MH-60R Romeo helicopter conducts functional testing of the newly fitted Airborne Low Frequency Sonar System (ALFS) off the coast of Jacksonville, Florida.

The Indian and US governments were in such a hurry to get sub-hunting US helicopters into the hands of the Indian navy that the Americans gave up some of their own helicopters to fill a rushed delivery early next year.

The Indian Navy will receive three new (undelivered) MH-60R helicopters formerly meant for the US Navy by the end of this year.

In August 2018, then Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had approved the contract for the choppers. The deal is being done under the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) route. A year later, the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA), which administers the FMS program, announced that the State Department made a determination approving a possible FMS to India of 24 MH-60R Multi-Mission helicopters for an estimated cost of $2.6 billion (INR 18,608 crore).

The deal is the largest contract Sikorsky has signed with the Indian government. Unlike most other programs, it’s not subject to the “Make in India” effort launched by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The company did not sign an offset agreement with India on the project, “so we will put more indirect work over in India,” Kane said. The Indian defense industry will also likely be involved in any maintenance and retrofit efforts on the aircraft in the coming years.

“This really was one of the higher priorities the [Indian] navy had, to get these aircraft delivered,” Tom Kane, director of Sikorsky’s Naval Helicopter Programs told reporters this morning. “I requested that the aircraft be made available on an accelerated basis. So I think there is an urgent need.”

The urgency stems from the decade-long process India has undergone to replace its aging fleet of British-made naval helicopters, as Chinese navy ships, underwater drones and so-called maritime militia civilian-flagged fishing boats spread further into the Indian Ocean.

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With New Delhi in a hurry to begin getting the state-of-the-art helicopters into use, and the US government eager to pull India closer as a hedge against growing Chinese naval capabilities, the US Navy allowed Sikorsky to take three of its brand new MH-60R Sea Hawks and begin modifying them to Indian standards to deliver next spring. The Navy will receive new MH-60R’s in a few years to replace them. The remaining 21 helicopters will be delivered in 2023 and 2024.

Most of the changes being made to the aircraft are in the communications and data sharing realm, Kane said. “They want the ability to talk to their satellites obviously, so there’s an Indian indigenous SATCOM data link. Also,they can talk to their ships so there’s a link to that they’ve asked us to install, and there’s some other modifications like a floatation system, and other things that we’ll have to [change] from the standard US Navy configuration,” he added. 

US Navy’s MH-60R

The MH-60R was born to be a sub hunter, however, and that mission will remain central to the Indian configuration. “They’ll come off the line as ASW [anti-submarine warfare] aircraft so they’ll have the active dipping sonar,” the AN/APS-153 radar “and things that you would normally see on a US Navy configuration,” Kane said. 

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