MH-60R Seahawk Upgrade Enters OpEval
The U.S. Navy is beginning Operational Evaluation (OpEval) of the MH-60R Multi Mission Helicopter, the next generation submarine hunter, cargo, search and rescue, and surface attack helicopter that will replace the fleet’s legacy SH-60B and SH-60F Seahawk aircraft on its frigates, destroyers, cruisers, aircraft carriers, and other ships. Many of its upgrades are aimed at optimizing the aircraft for littoral operations, in line with the USA’s evolving naval strategies.
Designed as a rigorous assessment of the aircraft and its mission systems in operational flight conditions, Operational Evaluation is an aircraft’s final test phase before fleet introduction and delivery, and a major step towards Milestone III and full-rate production of the MH-60R. The decision followed the helicopter’s successful completion of the Navy’s six-month-long developmental test phase, known as Technical Evaluation, in February 2005.
The MH-60R Seahawk Multi-Mission Helicopter
The U.S. Navy had planned to convert all of its SH-60s to multi-mission H-60Rs (“R” for “remanufactured”). The new version will feature advanced radar, new missile capabilities, low frequency dipping sonar, an integrated self-defense suite, and a host of other improvements that include a new cabin, a service life extension for the tail, new avionics, and a new “glass” common cockpit based on display screens rather than dials (which it will share with the Marines’ H-60S Knighthawk utility helicopter). This will allow pilots to switch from one aircraft type to another with greater ease and will reduce the logistic support infrastructure, resulting in lower cost of ownership.
Equipped with the data-link, dipping sonar, multi-mode radar, electronic support measures and an electro-optical gimbal, the MH-60R assumes the roles of today’s SH-60B and SH-60F Seahawks. It retains a primary anti-submarine warfare role and anti-surface warfare capability.
In 2001, however, the US Navy restructured the SH-60R program from a remanufacture of the existing U. S. Navy SH-60 fleet to a new procurement program. Under the modified program, only 7 airframes would be remanufactured SH-60Rs, with the rest to be new buy MH-60Rs. The first new manufactured aircraft are expected in 2006, and MH-60Rs should deploy with the MH-60S in a mixed carrier air wing by early 2009.
In an effort to realize long-term cost savings, the Navy is planning to buy a total of 254 MH-60R helicopters, 144 of which via a joint multi-year contract with the Army that combines purchases with the Army’s UH-60M and the Navy MH-60S. Mission systems and integration will be procured as well through a multi-year contract with Lockheed Martin Systems Integration of Owego, NY.
Total acquisition costs are expected to be approximately $10 billion over the life of the program and include the cost of government-furnished equipment (ground-maintenance equipment, training materials, etc) as well as the cost of the aircraft themselves.
UPDATE: The MH-60R was approved for full-rate production on March 31, 2006.
The MH-60S was originally known as the Knight Hawk, as a tribute to the CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters it’s replacing. The US Navy eventually decided to keep the name “Seahawk,” as it moves toward an all H-60 helicopter fleet.
The MH-60S entered service in 2002 as a replacement for the Boeing CH-46D Sea Knight, moving cargo between ships. The 78 Knight Hawks delivered so far are Block 1 aircraft with glass cockpits and data buses, but little specialized mission equipment. Structurally strengthened Block 2A and B aircraft will add mine-hunting sensors and countermeasures, among other improvements,
The new MH-60S AMCM Knighthawks will become operational in 2006 and 2007 with five mine-hunting systems:  side-looking sonar,  acoustic/magnetic minesweeper,  remotely piloted anti-mine torpedoes,  mine-detecting laser and  30mm mine-detonating cannon. The Navy plans to acquire 66 organic mine countermeasures kits that would enable Knight Hawks to sweep for mines from any ship. That capability now is only found in dedicated MH-53Es and surface minesweepers.
Like the MH-60R, the MH-60S can be armed with Hellfire missiles and guns. In 2006, Block 3A aircraft will receive armament kits including an electro-optical MTS-A gimbal that it will share with the Predator UAV, eight Hellfire laser-guided anti-armor missiles, .50 caliber and 7.62 mm machine guns, and updated aircraft survivability equipment. The Navy will buy 126 kits to outfit both MH-60R and S models. The last 162 MH-60Ss built will be multi-mission naval helicopters with Link 16 communications capability that will network the helicopters to other tactical aircraft.
The MH-60S will replace the US Navy’s HH-60H in the combat-rescue and special warfare support roles. If the Navy continues to decline to invest in 48 HV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft for search and rescue, special warfare and fleet logistics support, the MH-60S will become the primary rotary naval platform for those roles.
Getting With the Program
The Navy’s Air Test and Evaluation Squadron One (VX-1) in Patuxent River, MD will evaluate the performance of the MH-60R aircraft and its on-board weapons subsystems, including the multimode radar, electronic support measures and radar warning receiver, airborne dipping sonar and acoustics. The fusion of multiple data sources for most effective workload management and decision-making also will be evaluated. VX-1 perform the operational evaluation at various test ranges, and is expected to conclude in September 2005.
The MH-60R program, co-lead by Cmdr. Kevin Switick and Mr. Robert Kimble, is a department within the Multi-mission Helicopter Program Office (PMA-299), headquartered at the Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD. PMA-299 is administered by the Program Executive Office for Air ASW, Assault and Special Mission Programs (PEO-A). Lockheed Martin is the mission systems integrator for the MH-60R, and also provides the digital cockpit, which is common to all MH-60S and MH-60R helicopters. Sikorsky designs and manufactures the MH-60S and MH-60R aircraft and is responsible for the mechanical and electrical modifications on the airframe.
Additional Readings & Sources
- DID FOCUS: MH-60S Airborne Mine Counter-Measures
- DID FOCUS: MH-60R/S: The USA’s New Naval Workhorse Helicopters
- National Defense Magazine (Sept. 2005) – Navy, Marine Helicopter Fleets Will See Steady Arrivals of New Aircraft
- US Navy (May 17/05) – MH-60R Helicopter Enters Operational Evaluation Phase. It actually began on May 9/05.
- CNN Money (May 11/05) – MH-60R Helicopter Enters Operational Evaluation