MH-60R Seahawk operational
In late August, the Australian Navy received its 14th MH-60R Seahawk ‘Romeo’ naval combat helicopters. At time of publication Initial Operational Capability (IOC) milestone has probably been declared. Furthermore, the final helicopter of the 24 on order is now in initial stages of production, and on track for delivery mid next year.
The project has not attracted much attention since the Romeo was announced the winner of the Naval Combat Helicopter project back in 2011, but in September, Air 9000 Phase 8 won an award for the best-managed Aerospace and Defence project at the ACT Division of the Australian Institute of Project Managers awards night. The project is now a finalist in the AIPM national awards, to be held in Hobart in October.
After twelve months of training and work up in the United States alongside US Navy Romeo squadrons, the Navy’s initial MH-60R unit, 725 Squadron, arrived home in Australia in November 2014 and began flying operations as a squadron at HMAS Albatross, Nowra in January this year.
The squadron was formally commissioned on June 11, marking the culmination of several milestones in the journey towards IOC.
In its first year at home, the squadron has completed first of class flight trials aboard one of the Navy’s Anzac class frigates and the first embarked flight is already at sea.
The first two Anzac frigates, HMAS Perth and Warramunga, have already been modified for Romeo operations and the first tranche of Mk.54 torpedoes and AGM-114 Hellfire missiles have also now been delivered.
“There’s not a huge modification required to the Anzac frigates, the aircraft has pretty much the same footprint as a Seahawk Classic (S-70B-2),” explained Rear Admiral Tony Dalton, Head of Helicopters, Unmanned Aerial Systems and Guided Weapons for the Capability, Acquisition and Sustainment Group (CASG, formerly DMO).
“We are using the Anzac Anti-Ship Missile Defence (ASMD) modification period while the ship is out of the water, to carry out modifications for Seahawk Romeo operations. They are fairly minor and include storage for spare parts, because the helicopter has different avionics; we’re updating the ship’s power supply, because the Romeo is a bit more sensitive to external power it receives and we’ve changed the ship’s external lighting to be Night Vision Goggle (NVG) compatible.”
One of the critical pathways to the standing up of the capability at the beginning of the project was the approval and construction of the facilities at Nowra which had to gain Parliamentary Works Committee approval before work could begin.
“The building was always going to be on the critical path, but it was finished on schedule last December and the squadron occupied the facilities on schedule and the risk wasn’t realised,” RADM Dalton said.
“We went from a green field site at Nowra in December 2013, to a fully-commissioned squadron training facility in December last year, which is pretty remarkable.”
Busy Period Ahead
Despite the progress already made, the next year and more will be a busy period for the MH-60R as it works towards Final Operational Capability (FOC).
The first of flight trials aboard the Navy’s Canberra class Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD) ships will occur next year, as will the gradual conversion of the second squadron (816 Squadron, currently operating the Seahawk Classic) and the delivery of the final airframe.