Indian Navy inched closer to filling a crucial void when a contract worth approximately $2.12 billion for 24 MH-60R multirole helicopters (MRH) was inked in New Delhi on Feb 25.
Defence deals worth close to $3 billion that includes the Romeo and six AH-64E Apaches for Indian Army were signed coinciding with US President Donald Trump’s maiden visit to India.
The Romeos will embark IN ships that have been left with just one squadron each of obsolete anti-submarine warfare (ASW) Seakings and Kamov-28 helicopters (under upgrade). The first batch of eight Romeos will be delivered within a year with the rest 16 coming in batches over 2-3 years. The larger requirement of 123 Naval MRH has been allotted to the Strategic Partnership program under ‘Make in India’. The Romeos arrival will likely have its impact on IN’s selection of the NMRH, a project that includes both MRH and utility / commando carriers.
Indian Navy has been pushing hard for these choppers after a 14-year old Direct Commercial Sales (DCS) case for 16 MRH fell through at contract negotiation stage in 2017. Sikorsky’s S70B dropped out of the race when both sides could not reach an agreement on the commercial bid. The IN quickly opened a new front through government-to-government Foreign Military Sales (FMS) route for the MH-60R it had earlier held off in the DCS case for 16 MRH.
Agencies in the Indian MoD have been working at a frenetic pace to conclude this contract during the Trump visit. The Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) chaired by PM Narendra Modi cleared the Romeo and Apache cases last Wednesday. The contract, or ‘Letter of Acceptance’ as it is called in the FMS parlance, was signed forenoon of 25 Feb, naval sources confirmed.
The MH-60Rs will operate from the aircraft carrier, guided missile destroyers, stealth frigates, new and follow-on Seaking-capable ships. Naval sources indicate that an Intensive Flight Trials Unit (IFTU) will be set up. Teams have been identified for training.
The Romeos for IN will come with a weapons package that includes Raytheon’s MK54 torpedoes for ASW, AGM-114 Hellfire missiles and Kongsberg Naval Strike Missile for anti-surface warfare. BAE’s 70-mm Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System (APKWS) currently deployed on US Navy’s Romeos has also been sought by the IN in limited numbers.
Naval sources indicated that associated systems and infrastructure is being prepared for smooth integration and full exploitation of the Romeo. This includes ASIST recovery-assist and traversing system for ships, deck-lighting scheme for NVG compatibility, maintenance and servicing facilities, etc. An IFTU and training squadron is expected at Kochi in southern India with other squadrons / flights based at key locations on both seaboards, sources reveal.
©KP Sanjeev Kumar, 2020. All rights reserved. An edited version of this article was first published by Shephard Media, UK. You can access it here. Cover photo of Seahawk landing on a USN ship courtesy Curtiss-Wright.