The US Navy has awarded Lockheed Martin a contract for US$503.7m (A$730m) for the production of 12 Sikorsky MH-60R Romeo Seahawk helicopters for the Royal Australian Navy.
The new aircraft are being procured under the ADF’s Project SEA 9100 Phase 1 Embarked Logistics Support Helicopter Capability to replace the Navy’s six MRH 90 Taipans, and to augment the 23 MH-60Rs already in service.
The contract follows the October 2021 approval of the sale by the US State Department which said the sale would include six spare engines, and sensors, communications, and electronic warfare systems common to in-service US Navy and RAN machines.
What isn’t included in this announcement is the sale of an additional MH-60R which the former LNP government announced in May would be acquired to replace the machine lost in a ditching at sea last October.
The addition of the extra Romeos will allow the RAN to embark a flight of naval combat helicopters on all of its current ANZAC and Hobart classes ships and planned Hunter class frigates, as well as cover embarked logistics support missions aboard Navy amphibious vessels and AORs. For the logistics mission, the Romeo’s dipping sonar, sonar buoy tubes, and mission console can be removed from the cabin to make space for cargo and/or passengers.
The RAN has a planned capability assurance program (CAP) for its MH-60Rs underway under Project SEA 5510 which will keep its Romeos aligned and common with those of the US Navy. The project will ensure engineering and logistic support is available through until the aircraft’s planned withdrawal date (PWD) in the early-2040s.
The Defence Science & Technology (DST) Organisation is playing a key role in the CAP by conducting the Helicopter Advanced Fatigue Test–Technology Demonstrator (HAFT-TD) project which has been underway at DST Fisherman’s Bend since 2017.
Other planned upgrades include the adoption of new Generation 3i and 5i MC configuration mission computers and associated wiring kits, the first of which for Australia were contracted in June 2020 as part of a larger US Navy effort.