UAE Seeks Weaponized UH-60M ‘Battlehawk’ Helicopters
The UH-60M Black Hawk is currently the most advanced UH-60/S-70 model, whose variants are in service with the US Army and over 20 other countries around the world. To date, UH-60M customers include the USA, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates, plus a request from Egypt. Unlike global competitors such as Russia’s Mi-8/17 series, however, the UH-60′s operational armament is generally limited to door guns. That may be about to change, thanks to a UAE initiative.
Colombia currently flies the armed S-70 “Arpia III”, and Sikorsky has worked on armed “AH-60″ versions as an offering in some foreign competitions, but efforts to sell the concept in Australia and elsewhere were less successful. Nevertheless, Sikorsky executives see considerable potential for multi-role helicopters and conversion kits, in an era of global insurgencies, tight budgets, and limited helicopter numbers. Now, the UAE has become their launch customer. What is Sikorsky’s Battlehawk, and what are their plans?
Battlehawk, and Sikorsky’s Level 1-3 Kits
Armed H-60 helicopters are not new. Naval Seahawks can be armed with a variety of weapons including Mk54 torpedoes, Penguin anti-ship missiles, and Hellfire anti-armor missiles. On land, US Special Operations have been arming their MH-60s to various levels, and Colombia’s S-70 “Arpia III” helicopters can mount rockets and forward-firing gun pods. Even a US Army UH-60L model has provision for Hellfire missiles, but the US Army has elected not to add the necessary equipment to make that an operational capability.
Australia was offered an “AH-60″ for its armed reconnaissance helicopter competition, but chose the dedicated Eurocopter Tiger ARH instead. Nevertheless, Sikorsky believes that tight budgets will push existing and future customers toward multi-role helicopters. Colombia’s success led to Sikorsky’s announcement of its Battlehawk program at the 2006 Farnborough international air show, and interest from Israel and the UAE led to a refined 3-level set of kits. A mature Battlehawk program could give Sikorsky an important export edge over rivals like the European NH90 TTH, and offer feature parity with Russia’s popular Mi-17.
Technically, “Battlehawk” is a Sikorsky trademark, referring to a new-build UH-60M helicopter with a full weapons kit. The company’s larger goal is actually a set of kits that can be retrofitted to existing aircraft, or incorporated into newer models to take advantage of more advanced features. In most cases, the cost of conversion will be higher for older helicopters, because a larger number of systems must be upgraded. This can be offset somewhat by upgrading them to a lower level, to reduce the number of modifications needed.
Level 1 Kits already exist, in Colombia’s UH-60L/ S-70 Arpia models. They were fitted with surveillance turrets under the nose, and added stub wings to mount fixed weapons like gatling guns or unguided rockets, but these helicopters have no guided weapon capabilities. This is the cheapest kit conversion, and the most proven. The helicopter retains its full cabin capacity, and may retain its full soldier load, depending on the weight of the weapons fitted and ammunition carried.
Level 2 Kitswould add guided weapons, including optical and laser guided anti-armor missiles like TOW, Spike, and Hellfire, and emerging laser-guided rockets. The baseline under consideration in 2009 would mount 12.7mm/.50 caliber gatling guns on the inboard pylon pair, and either missiles or a 19-rocket launcher on the outboard pylons. Combat optics are upgraded accordingly, and the baseline configuration’s AN/AAQ-22E BRITE Star II turret includes targeting as well as surveillance. It will be integrated with the helicopter’s flight and weapons management systems, which will link to a day/night capable helmet-mounted display.
A helicopter with this kit retains its full cabin capacity for 11 soldiers, but its ability to carry that many will depend on the weight of the weapons it’s fitted with. It may also choose to devote some of its space and weight limits to mounted and/or in-cabin ammunition and weapons, extra fuel on board, 2 door gunners with 7.62mm gatling miniguns, etc. As equipment is added, troop carrying capacity will decline.
Level 3 Kits would add all Level 2 features, plus a gun turret on its underside for 180 degree firepower. The Israelis tested a French 20mm turret from Nexter, which has been developed to equip a number of helicopter types around the world. Unlike other conversions, the Level 3 kit does eat into the helicopter’s forward cabin space, reducing the number of soldiers it can carry.
Sikorsky’s initiative really took off with the UAE’s February 2011 order, and Sikorsky representatives say that this kit will be available for export to other customers. The firm is happy to talk to new partners, but integration of new capabilities and specific weapons will occur on a customer by customer basis, and the choices made by those initial customers will help to define the initial kits offered.
Over time, Sikorsky personnel expect that the options available under the 3 weapon kits will grow. As a simple example, special operations helicopters can add fuel tanks to extend the helicopter’s range or staying power. As of December 2009, however, Sikorsky representatives said that “wet pylon” capabilities weren’t part of their program. Other options will likely present themselves, as customers show interest.
The Israeli Tests, & the UAE
The Israeli Air Force has already conducted a number of tests, under a program that lasted from November 2007 – December 2009. Sikorsky participated in conjunction with Israeli manufacturers Elbit Systems and RAFAEL, and France’s Nexter. Testing used an Israeli Air Force (IAF) S-70A-55 Black Hawk helicopter, modified with Elbit’s weapon management system and ANVIS-HUD helmet mounted display, Elbit/ATK GATR-L laser-guided 70mm rockets, RAFAEL Spike-ER optical anti-armor missiles, and Nexter’s 20mm belly turret. The gun was a particular testing concern due to its required airframe modifications and potential for vibration issues, but it proved accurate and reportedly placed little stress on the airframe.
Sikorsky has marketing agreements with Elbit and Rafael for joint marketing of this demonstrator configuration, which could give the concept a boost in Israel, South America, and some countries in Europe and Asia, where those Israeli firms have developed solid relationships. The Israeli efforts were proof of concept and flight tests rather than an official integration program, however, and do not represent formal qualification of the weapons involved. Once a customer signs on, therefore, Sikorsky would need to include and charge for production qualification, full weapon qualification, full avionics integration, and reliability and component life testing.
The United Arab Emirates’ formal 2008 Foreign Military Sale request made them the expected launch customer for the UH-60M Armed Blackhawk mission kit, and that finally came to pass in 2011.
Sikorsky can leverage previous structural and electronics work from the Israeli demonstrations, and the UAE can replace Israeli equipment with alternatives like its own TALON laser-guided rockets, sensors and helmet-mounted sights from other manufacturers, etc. Their DSCA request lays out an initial equipment set that appears to correspond to the Level 2 kit – but note that the Level 3 kit’s Nexter 20mm gun comes from France, and would not be subject to US DSCA disclosure if the UAE wanted it.
The UAE has taken on pioneering roles in the past by paying for R&D programs like its Mirage 2000v5 and F-16 E/F Block 60 jet fighters, and earned millions of dollars in licensing revenues when Dassault exported the Mirage 2000-5 design to other countries. While Sikorsky representatives would not talk publicly about this dimension, they did note that the UAE’s fully-qualified kit would be available for export on the global market. A similar sort of royalty agreement with the UAE should be expected.
Contracts and Key Events
Discussions with Sikorsky representatives reveal that this add-on contract finalizes both the recent 14-helicopter order, and the original 26-helicopter order. Of the UAE’s contracted helicopters, 30 have been delivered so far, including all of the 14 helicopters ordered in 2009. Remaining conversions to the UAE’s base UH-60M configuration actually involve a few helicopters from the original order for 26 UH-60Ms. The contract for armed helicopter kits and qualification continues as a separate effort.
Work will be performed in Stratford, CT, with an estimated completion date of Dec 31/12. One bid was solicited, with one bid received by the UAE’s Foreign Military Sale contract agent, US Army Contracting Command in Redstone Arsenal, AL (W58RGZ-08-C-0003).
Oct 11/11: Sikorsky in Stratford, CT receives a $38.3 million firm-fixed-price contract modification, as a follow-on to its Dec 29/09 contract to buy 14 UH-60Ms. Work will be performed in Stratford, CT, with an estimated completion date of Dec 31/12. One bid was solicited, with one bid received. The U.S. Army Contracting Command at Redstone Arsenal, AL manages this contract (W58RGZ-08-C-0003).
As noted earlier, this is not a Battlehawk contract per se. It will be up to the UAE to decide which of its 40 UH-60M helicopters to modify with the kits, though new-build machines may be seen as an easier option.
Feb 21/11: At IDEX 2011, the UAE announces an AED 993.5 million (about $270.5 million) order from Sikorsky, through the Abu Dhabi Aircraft Technologies Company, to upgrade 23 UH-60Ms with Battlehawk kits. This makes the UAE Battlehawk’s launch customer. The bulk of the work will be undertaken by the AMMROC maintenance, overhaul and repair joint venture between Sikorsky and Abu Dhabi Aircraft Technologies.
Sikorsky representatives later said that the number announced at IDEX isn’t necessarily their number. They did confirm that this Direct Commercial Sale contract includes the additional development and qualification work, for a kit that they believe will be among the most sophisticated helicopter weapons capabilities in the world. The first helicopters with their fully-qualified kits aren’t expected before 2014.
Dec 29/09: Sikorsky in Stratford, CT receives a $171 million firm-fixed-price contract to produce 14 UH-60M helicopters, plus conversion to the UAE’s unique configuration. Work is to be performed in Stratford, CT, with an estimated completion date of Dec 31/12 (W58RGZ-08-C-0003).
Sikorsky has confirmed that these are not full Battlehawk helicopters, just the exercise of an option that will raise the UAE’s total UH-60M fleet to 40 machines. Battlehawk kits will be a separate contract.
Sept 9/08: the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency formally announces the United Arab Emirates’ formal request to buy additional UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters, plus weaponization kits and weapons/ Those kits would turn some UH-60Ms into multi-role attack helicopters that could transport troops, or operate in a light attack role alongside the UAE’s existing fleet of AH-64 Apache heavy attack helicopters.
The Government of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) formal request includes:
- 14 more UH-60M helicopters with engines. When added to the previous order for 26, this option would bring the country’s UH-60M fleet to 40.
- 6 T700-GE-701D spare engines
- 14 AN/ALQ-144Av3 Infrared (IR) Countermeasure Sets
- 14 AN/APR-39Av4 Radar Signal Detecting Sets
- 14 AAR-57v3 Common Missile Warning Systems
- 14 AN/AVR-2B Laser Warning Sets
The request also states that the UAE is also looking to “weaponize” 23 UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters, and is interested in the following additional weapons.
- 30 M299 Hellfire launchers, each of which can hold 4 Hellfire missiles, or up to 16 DAGR laser-guided rockets, or any combination thereof. The UAE already operates these on its AH-64 fleet.
- 390 AGM-114N Hellfire II missiles. The AGM-114N is the “Augmented Metal Charge” (thermobaric/ fuel-air) version of the laser-guided Hellfire II. Its devastating explosions can kill or suffocate enemies in caves, collapse buildings, or do significant damage to enemies in an open blast area.
- 8 Hellfire training missiles.
- 23,916 MK-66 Mod 4 2.75″/ 70mm Rocket Systems in the following configuration: 1,000 M229 High Explosive Point Detonate, 540 M255A1 Flechette (anti-personnel darts), 1,152 M264 RP Smoke, 528 M274 Smoke Signature, 495 M278 Flare, 720 M274 Infrared Flare, 20,016 HA23 Practice rockets. The UAE’s TALON program with Raytheon is creating a bolt-on laser-guidance option for 70mm rockets like this.
- 22 of General Dynamics’ GAU-19 3-barrel, .50 caliber/ 12.7 mm externally-powered gatling gun systems.
- 93 of Dillon Aero’s M-134 6-barrel, 7.62mm ‘mini-gun’ gatling guns.
- Spare and repair parts, publications and technical data, support equipment, personnel training and training equipment, ground support, communications equipment, U.S. Government and contractor technical and logistics personnel services, aircraft survivability equipment, tools and test equipment, and other related elements of logistics support.
The estimated cost of these items is $774 million. While the various sub-systems and weapons are made by a number of manufacturers, the principal contractors will be: Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation of Stratford, CT and General Electric of Lynn, MA (engines). The USE does have an active industrial offsets program, and will be requesting them in negotiations with the contractors involved.
Implementation of this proposed sale will require the assignment of 6-8 Contractor Field Service representatives to the United Arab Emirates for approximately 2 years after initial fielding, to assist in the delivery and deployment of the helicopters.
Additional Readings & Sources
- DID would like to thank Sikorsky’s Ray Burke (Battlehawk Program Manager), Mike Ambrose (VP – International Military), and Matt Rodgers (Black Hawk program Marketing Manager) for their assistance and clarifications regarding the firm’s Armed Black Hawk programs.
- Sikorsky – BattleHawk(TM)
- Global Security – AH-60L / S-70 Battle Hawk
- Sikorsky (Dec 14/09) – Armed BLACK HAWK Demonstrator Completes Test Program. This is the Israeli demonstrator program.
- Jerusalem Post (Aug 30/09) – IAF testing new Black Hawk models. Israel may be set to join Colombia and the UAE in this concept, though no commitment has been made: “The arming of the Black Hawk is being done jointly by the IAF, Sikorsky and several local defense contractors. One of the helicopters has already successfully test-fired an air-to-surface missile. The helicopter has also been equipped with a rapid-fire cannon that sits under the aircraft’s belly.”