Lithuania nears deal to buy Black Hawks, ditch Soviet-era helicopters
By Dan Parsons | November 10, 2020
Estimated reading time 4 minutes, 11 seconds.
Lithuania is on the verge of finalizing a deal to buy four UH-60M helicopters from the U.S. government, part of a larger deal for six Black Hawks to replace its aging Russian-built Mi-8s approved in July.
The country’s Ministry of Defence announced Nov. 10 that it is “set to sign a contract” for the aircraft “later this week.” Over the next five years, Lithuania has agreed to pay $213 million for the helicopters, additional equipment, spares, and a training, repair and logistical support package. The U.S. is offering up another $30 million in support for outfitting Lithuania with the most-modern UH-60M.
Delivery of the first UH-60M is scheduled for late 2024, “when the Lithuania Armed Forces will have fully trained personnel — pilots and ground support specialists — to work with the new platform and ready maintenance and ground support equipment,” Lithuania’s Defence Ministry said in a statement published online.
Buying Sikorsky-built UH-60 helicopters improves Lithuania’s interoperability with NATO allies, particularly neighboring Poland and Latvia, and moves it away from reliance on outdated Soviet-era systems like the Mi-8T currently in service. Those 30-year-old Mi-8s are nearing the end of their service lives, becoming prohibitively expensive to maintain, prone to failure and spare parts are difficult to procure from Russia, according to the Defence Ministry.
“This acquisition is one of the most critical elements in the modernization and enhancement of the Lithuanian Armed Forces, and a significant qualitative leap in supplying the military with contemporary and capable weaponry,” said Minister of National Defence Raimundas Karoblis in a prepared statement. “By dropping the last Soviet relic and progressing to a Western helicopter platform we are beginning a completely new phase for the Lithuanian Air Force and moving in step with U.S. and other most advanced NATO allies’ militaries.”
Lithuania chose the Black Hawk from a pool of four bids, but the Ministry did not specify which manufacturers pitched utility helicopters. Aside from military utility and assault missions, Lithuania’s Air Force helicopters are on 24-hour standby for search-and-rescue on land and at sea, medical and donor organ transport and firefighting.
“Black Hawks . . . will provide the possibility for the Lithuanian Armed Forces to carry out a significantly more effective military training, render air support to the infantry, airlift small units, medical evacuation, and other tasks,” said Lithuanian Chief of Defence Lt. Gen. Valdemaras Rupšys. “We will also be able to complete domestic support tasks, such as search-and-rescue, emergency transportation of organs, firefighting, more effectively.”