MH-60R/S: The USA’s New Naval Workhorse Helicopters
Budgets 2013-2017; Loss in Qatar; Weapon and systems upgrades coming to MH-60S, MH-60R; Additional Readings sections improved.
March 28/14: Armed MH-60S. US Naval Surface Warfare Center Indian Head’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technology Division has been working on a project to modify 19-tube rocket launchers for NAVAIR’s Direct and Time Sensitive Strike Weapons (PMA 242) program office. The new LAU-61G/A Digital configuration adds a launcher electronic assembly that will allow a mix of guided and unguided rockets, mixed rocket load-outs, on-command inventory, tube-usage count, and built-in system check testing. In other words, it starts to look like the missile launcher it’s becoming, instead of just an unguided rocket launcher.
The CNO Rapid Deployment Capability project is aimed at the MH-60S fleet, to help them defend carrier strike groups against fast-attack craft. The 16 Early Operational Capability versions that NSWC IHEODTD just delivered can only use APKWS laser-guided rockets (q.v. Dec 18/13), which will be used in a coming deployment with USS Carl Vinson [CVN 70] strike group. Sources: US Navy, “NSWC IHEODTD Supports Digital Rocket Launcher Early Operational Capability”.
March 27/14: Qatar. The Gulf Emirate orders 22 NH90s, at a reported purchase price of around QAR 8.9 billion (about $2.446 billion). The order covers 12 NH90-TTH utility helicopters, and 10 NH90-NFH naval helicopters, whose functions roughly correspond to the MH-60S and MH-60R, respectively. A June 28/12 DSCA request involved 10-18 MH-60Rs and 12 MH-60S machines (see also Sept 22/11), but Sikorsky lost the competition.
The helicopters will replace Qatar’s 12-13 old Westland Commando (Sea King) maritime utility and patrol helicopters, and at least some of its Lynx and/or Puma family helicopters. With this buy, Qatar joins their near neighbor Oman as an NH90 customer. No word yet re: their delivery schedule. Other Qatari buys in their $23 billion DIMDEX shopping spree included 24 attack helicopters, air defense and anti-tank missiles, fast attack boats, 2 A330 aerial refueling planes, and 3 E-737 AWACS aircraft. Sources: Al Defaiya, “Qatar Announces Big Defense Deals at DIMDEX 2014″ | Arabian Aerospace, “Qatar in $23bn arms order including Apache and NH90 helicopters” | Reuters, “Qatar buys helicopters, missiles in $23 billion arms deals”.
March 4-11/14: FY15 Budget. The USAF and USN unveil their preliminary budget request briefings. They aren’t precise, but they do offer planned purchase numbers for key programs between FY 2014 – 2019. FY15 orders are unaffected: 8 MH-60S will end production for the US Navy, and 29 MH-60R helicopters will be bought as planned. On the other hand, the planned FY16 close-out order for 29 MH-60R helicopters is gone.
The cut is linked to the planned removal of 1 carrier air wing (to 10) and cap in the number of LCS ships at 32. The problem is twofold. One, the air wing would have to be put back if the Navy decides to fund USS George Washington’s mid-life RCOH after all in FY16. Two, the 20 subsequent LCS buys would be replaced by ships with frigate-like capabilities, and those ships need ASW helicopters. Navy officials said that advance procurement funds for FY16 were still present in the FY15 budget, and the Navy could reverse course in FY16. They’re under a multi-year procurement deal, so unless there’s a resale of some kind that’s allowed within the terms, the penalty fees would be high. Sources: USN, PB15 Press Briefing [PDF] | Defense News, “US Navy Budget Plan: Major Questions Abound”.
Dec 18/13: Weapons. H-60 Program Manager Capt. James Glass discusses programs to upgrade the fleet with new weapons and systems.
The MH-60S naval utility helicopters are slated to integrate APKWS laser-guided 70mm rockets by March 2014, in an early version of the 19-tube LAU-61G/A digital launcher (q.v. March 28/14). The MH-60S is also about to begin test-firing the same M197 3-barrel 20mm gatling gun used on Cobra attack helicopters. Presumably, that will be a podded version. Laser guidance isn’t ideal against boat swarms, because it requires continuous guidance to each target. A 20mm gun would compensate by allowing a 2nd attack option that can be pursued independently.
The MH-60R’s new AN/APS-153 radar with automatic radar periscope detection and discrimination (ARPDD) will reach the fleet by January 2014. By March 2015, the MH-60Rs will add APKWS. The last set of MH-60R upgrades concern the ALFS dipping sonar, which is being engineered for more reliability. Sources, Military.com, “Navy Arms MH-60S Helicopter with Gatling Gun”.
The US Army’s UH-60 Black Hawks have always had a naval counterpart. SH-60B/F Seahawk/ LAMPS helicopters were outfitted with maritime radar, sonobuoys, and other specialized equipment that let them perform a wide variety of roles, from supply and transport, to anti-submarine warfare, search and rescue, medical evacuation, and even surface attack with torpedoes or Kongsberg’s AGM-119 Penguin missiles. Like their land-based counterparts, however, the Seahawks are getting older. The Reagan defense build-up is receding into history, and its products are wearing out.
European countries chose to build new designs like the medium-heavy EH101 and the NH90 medium helicopter. They’re larger than the H-60s, make heavy use of corrosion-proof composites, and add new features like rear ramps. The USA, in contrast, decided to upgrade existing H-60 designs for the Army and Navy. Hence the MH-60R Multi-Mission Helicopter (aka. “Romeo”) and MH-60S (aka. “Sierra”) Seahawks. MH-60Rs and MH-60Ss will eventually replace all SH-60B/F & HH-60H Seahawks, HH-1N Hueys, UH-3H Sea Kings, and CH-46D Sea Knight helicopters currently in the US Navy’s inventory. Both programs are underway, and will be covered in this DID FOCUS Article.
The New Sikorsky Seahawks
Romeo, Armed: The MH-60R Multi-Mission Helicopter
Blue Collar Sierra: The MH-60S
The MH-60R/S Program
MH-60R/S Contracts and Key Events
FY 2005 and earlier
Additional Readings & Sources
Background: Ancillary Systems
News and Views
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