The U.S. State Department has given approval for a $2.6 billion government-to-government Foreign Military Sale (FMS) to India of 24 multimission MH-60R Romeo Seahawk naval helicopters. The Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) notified Congress of the potential sale on April 2.
The acquisition would help bolster the Indian Navy’s anti-surface and anti-submarine warfare (ASW) mission capabilities by providing a more modern platform than the aging inventory of British-produced Westland Sea King helicopters that have proven increasingly costly to maintain.
The Sea Kings began entering operational service with the Indian Navy in July 1971. Today just a handful remain operational at any one time, partially due to difficulties in sourcing the requisite spare parts. This has left the majority of India’s surface warship fleet to conduct missions minus a dedicated anti-submarine helicopter capability, instead having to rely on the even-older Chetak (an Indian variant of the SA 316 Alouette III) general purpose helicopter fleet.
Nicknamed the Romeo, the MH-60R helicopters manufactured by Lockheed Martin are designed for hunting submarines as well as knocking out ships and conducting search-and-rescue operations at sea. The Romeos would replenish India's aging fleet of British-made Sea King helicopters. pic.twitter.com/6bSovsQl2X
— IndoPacific_SCS_Info (@IndoPac_Info) April 3, 2019
With China expanding its naval presence in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) and strategically aligning more and more with India’s rival, Pakistan, the need for improved ASW capabilities is pressing for the Indian Navy.
Currently the Indian Navy is suffering from a massive shortage of operational shipborne naval helicopters capable of detecting, tracking and hunting enemy submarines, thus bringing the need for a multirole helicopter (MRH) solution to the forefront of naval procurement requirements.
Earlier, in 2011, India’s Ministry of Defence issued a global tender calling for 16 naval multirole helicopters. On December 5, 2014, Sikorsky’s Seahawk was selected as the preferred platform over the NH Industries NH90.
However, by April 2017 talks with Lockheed Martin over the acquisition had been suspended over price disagreements, with the MoD instead announcing in December 2017 that it would float a fresh global tender for 24 naval multirole helicopters at a cost of roughly $1.87 billion.
But because of the capability gap in ASW rotorcraft capability, the MH-60R procurement took on increasing urgency. Therefore, the Indian government made a formal request to the U.S. in November 2018 for the 24-unit procurement via the government-to-government FMS channel, which has become a favored procurement route of India for U.S.-sourced hardware in recent years.
The proposed FMS includes not only the helicopters but also associated equipment such as APS-153(V) multimode radars, the AAS-44C(V) multispectral targeting system, night vision devices, APX-123 identification friend or foe (IFF) transponders, and advanced weapon systems.
The 24-unit procurement of the advanced MH-60R Seahawk allows India to fill a crucial role while a larger project for 123 naval multirole helicopters (NMRHs) – under the government’s “Strategic Partnership” model – unfolds.
The Strategic Partnership model falls under the government’s “Make in India” indigenization push. It is meant to benefit local Indian defense industry by tying up private sector companies with global defense primes under an arrangement that would see New Delhi purchase foreign-sourced equipment that is made in India via localized work share and technology transfer from the original equipment manufacturer (OEM).
It should also be noted that the inking of the Communications, Compatibility, and Security Agreement (COMCASA) between India and the U.S. on September 6, 2018, also eased the MH-60R sale. The agreement allows the U.S. to share high-end encrypted communication and satellite data with a friendly partner nation, thus ensuring American and Indian naval forces are compatible within an operational scenario.