Defence plans to buy an additional Sikorsky MH-60R Romeo Seahawk helicopter to replace one that ditched in the Philippine Sea in October last year.
The new helicopter will come on top of a dozen new Romeos which will replace the Navy’s problematic fleet of Airbus MRH-90 Taipan helicopters and augment the 23 Romeos already in service.
In a 9 May release, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the Government planned to expand the maritime helicopter fleet with the additional dozen MH-60R Romeo maritime helicopters which would be based at HMAS Albatross, along with a 13th Romeo to replace one lost in 2021.
The Prime Minister said this investment was worth more than $2.5 billion, and the Government has also set aside up to $360 million to expand facilities at HMAS Albatross to house the larger fleet.
Australia already operated a fleet of 24 Romeos delivered in the period 2013-16. The aircraft lost last year was flying off DDG HMAS Brisbane when it conducted an emergency ditching for an unspecified technical reason.
The government’s intention to acquire additional Romeos wasn’t a secret, as the US Foreign Military Sales organisation disclosed Australia’s intention to expand the fleet last October.
Australia initially acquired fleet of 47 MRH-90 helicopters for use by Army and Navy, but they’ve been plagued by technical and sustainment problems, and operational shortcomings. In December, the government announced they would go, to be replaced by new Black Hawks for the Army and additional Romeos for the Navy.
Defence Minister Peter Dutton said the Romeos were proven helicopters that would deter and respond to the threats Australia faced. “We’re expanding the size and capability of our helicopters to meet the threats Australia faces,” he said.
“We’re following the 2020 Force Structure Plan that outlined the need to expand our naval operations in particular and the Romeo fits that role as a next generation submarine hunter and anti-surface warfare helicopter, and can also assist with search and rescue and transport like they have during recent bushfires and floods.”
In a company statement, Lockheed Martin Australia Chief Executive Warren McDonald welcomed the Maritime Helicopter capability expansion. He said, “This additional growth further enhances the Royal Australian Navy’s rotary-wing capability and increases operational flexibility to transition from anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare to maritime utility and support missions using the multi-role capability of the MH-60R Seahawk,” he said.
“The expanded MH-60R Seahawk fleet provides strong economic opportunities for Australian industry that will generate more employment, supply chain spending, and partnerships with small to medium enterprises in the Shoalhaven region, he added. “Our Sikorsky Australia team has an exceptional track record as a trusted partner to the Royal Australian Navy in sustaining this critical capability with excellence.”
The new aircraft will be delivered from 2025.