The US Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) has announced that Australia has been approved to acquire 12 Sikorsky MH-60R Romeo Seahawk helicopters.
The announcement posted on October 8 says that, if the estimated US$985m (A$1.35bn) foreign military sale (FMS) acquisition proceeds, the package will include 12 helicopters, six spare GE T-700-401C engines, a suite of sensors, communications systems, weapons, and the usual US government package of training, engineering support, test activities, and technical publications.
The 2020 Force Structure Plan published in July 2020 forecast the requirement to “expand and rationalise the support and logistics helicopter fleet consistent with the expectations for larger naval operations.” An accompanying timeline chart shows a project for the logistics helicopter running from 2025 to 2031, and is valued at $1bn to $1.5bn.
The new helicopters will replace the Royal Australian Navy’s six Airbus MRH 90 Taipans currently operated by 808SQN but which are soon expected to be transferred to the Australian Army. The ADF’s 47 MRH 90s – which were acquired from 2006 through Project AIR 9000 Phases 2/4/6 – have suffered from poor availability since entering service, forcing the Army to lease interim helicopters in the form of the Leonardo AW139 for training and non-combat transport roles, and the Navy to look for a replacement for its machines.
The RAN currently operates 24 MH-60Rs with 725 and 816SQNs and Nowra, which were acquired through AIR 9000 Phase 8, the last of which was delivered in September 2016. Like the original fleet, the new aircraft will be employed in both combat and fleet support roles.
Instead of operating two aircraft types, the new machines will provide the RAN with a common fleet of 36 helicopters. The MH-60R’s combat systems can be removed from its cab to provide space and weight for the logistics mission, although this is a difficult task to perform onboard a ship at sea.