Minister for Defence Stephen Smith and Minister for Defence Materiel Jason Clare today announced that the Australian Government had approved the acquisition of 24 MH-60R Seahawk ‘Romeo’ naval combat helicopters at a cost of over $3 billion.
The 2009 Defence White Paper committed the Government to equipping naval warships with a new combat helicopter capable of conducting a range of maritime misions with advanced anti-submarine warfare capabilities and the ability to fire air-to-surface missiles.
This announcement delivers on that commitment.
The new helicopters will replace the Navy’s current combat helicopter capability provided by 16 Seahawk S‑70B‑2 helicopters and will also provide the air to surface strike capability which was to have been provided by the cancelled Seasprite program.
This decision follows a 15-month competitive acquisition process involving the Sikorsky-Lockheed Martin built MH-60R and the NATO Helicopter Industries NH90 NFH assembled by Australian Aerospace.
This competitive process has ensured value for money for the tax payer.
The Australian Government has chosen the ‘Romeo’ helicopter because it represents the best value for money for taxpayers and was the lowest risk option.
The ‘Romeo’ is a proven capability currently operated by the United States Navy. The United States Navy has accepted around 100 ‘Romeos’ which have accumulated 90,000 flying hours, including on operational deployments.
Interoperability with Australia’s Alliance partner, the United States, is also a significant advantage of this helicopter.
The helicopters are largely military off-the-shelf built by Sikorsky and Lockheed Martin and will be purchased through the Foreign Military Sales process from the US Navy.
Defence has signed a Letter of Agreement for the acquisition with the United States Government.
The first two helicopters will arrive in mid-2014 for testing and evaluation with operations expected to commence in mid-2015.
Acquisition of 24 ‘Romeos’ means that Navy will have the capacity to provide at least eight warships with a combat helicopter at the same time, including ANZAC Class frigates and the new Air Warfare Destroyers. The remainder will be based at HMAS Albatross in Nowra, New South Wales, and will be in various stages of the regular maintenance and training cycle.
They will be equipped with a highly sophisticated combat systems designed to employ Hellfire air-to-surface missile and the Mark 54 anti-submarine torpedo.
The Government will work with Australian Small-to-Medium Enterprises to identify opportunities to form part of the ‘Romeo’ global supply chain.
The Government has established a joint working group between Defence and the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research to progress Australian industry involvement in the project.
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