(This was originally posted in The Financial Express by HUMA SIDDIQUI)
Soon a team of Indian Navy pilots and ground staff will leave for the US to be trained for the new helicopters the navy is expected to receive later this year. The Indian Navy is expected to receive the first batch of MH-60R Seahawk maritime helicopters from the US-based Sikorsky-Lockheed Martin later this year. Sources have told the Financial Express Online that, “A letter has been received from the US based company inviting the pilots and ground staff for training. The number of pilots and the ground crew has yet to be decided. The training was to take place last year. However, due to the global pandemic of Coronavirus and the subsequent shutdown delayed this process.
“Now, as the world is opening up gradually, the training process will start,” the sources added.
When are the MH-60R Seahawk helicopters arriving?
The first three out 24 MH-60R Seahawks are expected to be delivered between June – September, 2021. Will these be handed over to the Indian Embassy in the US and used for training of the pilots, is being worked out.
Sources who are familiar with the process confirmed “Some of these helicopters will be used for training before they fly to India. The original timeline for the delivery is expected to be followed.”
The whole process had to be put on hold due to the global shut down. The deal was cleared by the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) last year in February before the former US President Donald Trump’s visit to India.
This deal for 24 helicopters is through the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) for approximately $ 2.6 billion and is expected to help the Indian Navy to play a critical role in the Indian Ocean.
More about MH-60Rs `Romeos’ Helicopters
These are fourth-generation MH-60Rs `Romeos’ helicopters which the Indian Navy will get.
They will come loaded with torpedoes and missiles. These missiles can be used in anti-submarine roles. Though there is still no clarity on the off-sets, according to sources, there is a 30 per cent offset clause as well.
The package for India includes training, spares and air-to-ground weapons and support.
From the time the contract will be signed, in five years the delivery of 24 machines will be completed.
These machines which are going to replace the British Sea King helicopters received government approval in 2018 by the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC). As has been reported earlier, through a competitive process earlier 16 helicopters were to be procured and there was an optional clause for eight more. However that fell through and the deal was cancelled over the pricing and other issues.
Later a fresh tender was floated for 24 MH-60R helicopters. And, this was processed through the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) route.
Eye in the Sky
Combined with the P8-I which the Indian Navy is already operating, the Indian Navy’s submarine hunting will grow stronger when combined with these helicopters and the Sea Guardian Drones which are also being operated by the navy.
The first three helicopters which India will receive is going to be modified to the initial Indian configuration by the US based Lockheed Martin Company. According to an earlier statement which was issued by the Pentagon, the modification work will be carried out in Owego, New York; and Stratford, Connecticut, based facilities.
India will receive three new (undelivered) MH-60R helicopters which were meant for the US Navy and Lockheed Martin Rotary and Mission Systems (LM RMS) will integrate and install an India MH-60R System Configuration USN Government Furnished aircraft.
The helicopter is a naval version of Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk and a member of the Sikorsky S-70 family and the most significant modifications include the folding main rotor. And the modification will also include a hinged tail, this will reduce the footprint aboard ships.
These can handle not only anti-submarine warfare (ASW), anti-surface warfare (ASUW) operations, but they have the capability of being used in naval special warfare (NSW) insertion, vertical replenishment (VERTREP), search and rescue (SAR), as well as combat search and rescue (CSAR), and medical evacuation (MEDEVAC).