The first two Sikorsky MH-60 “Romeo” helicopters from an order of 24 have arrived at the Naval Air Enclave, Cochin International Airport, in southern India. The helicopters, contracted through the U.S. Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program, were brought over in a USAF C-17 Globemaster, and will be assembled and flown in two weeks, after which a formal unveiling is expected. A third airframe is scheduled for delivery at the end of August.
The FMS contract for the purchase was signed on Feb. 25, 2020, weeks before the maiden visit of former U.S. President Donald Trump. On the occasion of India’s Navy Day (Dec. 4, 2020), Lockheed Martin released the “first look” of the India MH-60R.
For the Indian Navy, it represents the first import of multirole helicopters (MRH) this century, and the second import of western-origin MRH in over four decades. The Sea King Mk-42B “flying frigates” were imported from U.K. in the late ’80s.
A long-drawn Direct Commercial Sales (DCS) case for procuring 16 MRH fell through in June 2017, when contract negotiations with Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation broke down.
The Navy moved quickly to recover lost ground by going the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) route through for 24 MH-60R helicopters, inked with the U.S. Navy and Lockheed Martin.
The first six Romeos will likely be in the same configuration as the those in service with the U.S. Navy, save for few pieces of tactical equipment, such as IFF and data link. The India-customised aircraft are expected to arrive later next year. Deliveries of all 24 will be completed by 2025, as per official sources.
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Bereft of multirole helicopters in both capability and numbers, the Indian Navy had been left fielding five-decade-old Alouettes on frontline warships, while most others sailed out with an empty deck.
The Indian MH-60R features Lockheed Martin’s trademark “Common Cockpit” avionics suite, seen across the U.S. Navy fleet of MH-60 Romeos and Sierras. The Romeo comes with a multi-mode radar with ISAR capability, Multi Spectral Targeting system, a comprehensive electronic warfare and self-protection suite, Advanced Low Frequency Dunking Sonar, GPS-capable sonobuoys, secure voice communication, SATCOM, and datalink systems.
Weapons for the Indian Romeo, to be contracted under a separate deal, are expected to be same as those on the U.S. Navy Romeos. These include Mk 54 torpedoes, Hellfire Missiles and Advance Precision Kill Weapon System rockets. The India MH-60R is also being equipped with few mission-specific Buyer Nominated Equipment unique to the Indian version.
Training with the new aircraft began last year, and is being progressed in staggered tranches with varied durations. It will conclude by mid-2023. The first batch of air and ground crew are already in India preparing for formal induction of the aircraft at Southern Naval Command, Kochi.
To ensure smooth operational integration of these new helicopters in the Indian Navy, an “MH-60R Cell” has been formed at Indian Naval Air Station Garuda, Kochi. The unit’s primary mandate is to create the necessary infrastructure for operations of the Romeo and support training of the crew until the first squadron is commissioned. The initial operating base is being set up at Kochi, which would likely be commissioned as the Romeo training squadron. It is estimated that a squadron each will be raised on the Western and Eastern seaboard to support the Indian Navy’s two fleets.