India buys two dozen MH-60R sub-hunting helicopters for $900 million

Sikorsky has finalized a $905 million deal to build two dozen MH-60R maritime utility helicopters for India, the largest defense contract that parent company Lockheed Martin has signed with the country.

Awarded May 14, the deal calls for the rapid delivery of three MH-60 “Romeo” helicopters to the Indian Navy that were pulled from U.S. Navy deliveries in anticipation of the contract, according to Tom Kane, Sikorsky’s director of naval helicopter programs.

India plans to buy 24 Sikorsky MH-60R helicopters primarily for submarine hunting in the Indian Ocean. Lockheed Martin Photo
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“The Indian Ocean is pretty big, so it’s critical from a maritime security standpoint for the Indian Navy to have these aircraft to be able to patrol that ocean against any threats that they have,” Kane told reporters during a May 15 conference call. “It’s a really good fit for India. They are as excited to get the aircraft as we are to provide them.”

The first aircraft should be delivered to India in June 2021, which “is more accelerated than we would normally be able to achieve, because we have been anticipating this contract for quite some time,” Kane said.

India currently operates a mixed fleet of Russian-made Kamov Ka-28, Sikorsky S-61 Sea King and domestically produced HAL Dhruv for maritime patrol and anti-submarine warfare. India requested the MH-60 be made available on an accelerated schedule to replace some its older maritime rotorcraft.

Three MH-60Rs built for the U.S. Navy were held in Lockheed’s facility in Owego, New York, to get a “jump start” on the India contract, Kane said. The plan will allow delivery to India next spring and early summer and for Indian pilots to begin training almost immediately, he said.

Another 21 helicopters will be delivered through 2024 under the $904.8 million contract that falls under a Letter of Agreement (LOA) signed by the Indian and U.S. governments in February.

The R-model Seahawks will primarily provide maritime anti-surface and anti-submarine warfare capabilities to India, with secondary missions including cargo and utility, search-and-rescue, and communications relay.

Sikorsky will modify the aircraft with India-specific equipment, mainly communications technologies that will allow connection to the country’s satellite network, Kane said.

India becomes the fifth country to operate the sub-hunting MH-60R. Aside from the U.S. Navy, Australia has a fleet of 24 of the helicopters, Saudi Arabia operates 10 and Denmark has seven.

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With more than 340 Romeos in operation, the aircraft design and Sikorsky’s production capacity are mature to the point that it did not make sense to produce the helicopters overseas, Kane said.

“We do have an offset requirement, so we will put more indirect work over in India,” he said. “I think there will be an opportunity to involve Indian industry more in the sustainment phase of the program.”

The initial contract awarded May 14 is for the airframes. Additional contracts are expected for logistics, sustainment and support of India’s fleet, which will account for the remainder of the $2.6 billion laid out in the LOA signed in February. Also included in the agreement are six Boeing AH-64E Apache attack helicopters for $980 million.

Lockheed already is on contract with India for C-130 transport planes and the company builds S-92 cabins there.

The U.S. government has formally sent the expected Letter of Agreement (LoA) for 24 MH-60R Seahawk maritime helicopters, to the Indian Government earlier this week. In view of China’s expansion of its presence in the India Ocean, the helicopter deal will help in boosting the Indian Navy’s anti-surface and anti-submarine warfare operations.

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