Thursday, June 16, 2011

Defence selects U.S. made Romeo helicopter for the Navy

Given the great unpleasantness in procurement and the general trend that it is safer if DMO doesn't do too much to hurt their brain, Defence has decided for the off-the-shelf U.S.-made Romeo helicopter for the Navy over the Euro contender. This one was predictable.

via Defence
Stephen Smith MP
Minister for Defence

Jason Clare MP
Minister for Defence Materiel

New Naval Combat Helicopters

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.


Anonymous said...

DMO must have been left out of this one?

Vince said...

Yes, the NH-90 like the Tiger is such a piece of crap there was no avoiding this one.
They prolly realised that that sending ships on missions without a working helicopter aboard would raise too many questions.
I even wondering if the army NH-90 will ever be fit for frontline duty.
But that is more of a geek question, cause troops on the ground today need more working helicopters today.

And yes thats the real fail, shame and tragic.

Bushranger 71 said...

A while back, Lockheed Martin/Sikorsky offered an inducement to the government to refurbish the Seahawk fleet for sale to third parties; but unknown at this stage whether that is embraced in this deal.

Rough number crunching suggests the unit cost of the MH-60R might be north of about $80million, which is one damn expensive helicopter. Might it not have been better just to refurbish/optimise Seahawk and Sea Kings to pretty near MH-60R capabilities and with better capacity for ship boarding roles? Seems to me that Defence is still determined to continue with reckless spending rather than look for more cost-effective hardware solutions.

The ANZAC frigates are fitted with RAST but the AWD will apparently have ASIST installed. Compatibility with MH-60R?

iksnorb said...

Commomsence seems to have prevailed within the DoD & DMO, who would have thought!
However, the decision does seem to fly in he face of the much publicised reasoning that the ADF wanted to rationalise its helicopter fleet to a common type in order to simplify operational & maintainence issues.

Anonymous said...

T leastsome of them will work

Goldeel1 said...


You raise a very valid point over the refurbishment offer. Further why didn't the DoD take the existing 16 S-70B's and remanufacture them to MH-60R and add the additional 8 as new builds. This is exactly what has been done with the CH-47's from C to D and now some US machines to F standard. This would almost certainly have been cheaper. I cannot see how buying new builds, trading the legacy Seahawks in to Sikorsky to be refurbed and on-sold is going to be cheaper. Sikorsky will naturally take a cut from any on-sell, as they are entitled to. Is this yet another shiny new toy syndrome example?

Very good point in regards to the issue of RAST/ASIST compatibility. This was actually brought up recently by a number of people. It begs the question why was any recovery system chosen for the AWD's before this selection was made. And why was ASIST picked over RAST, could it be the Navy had already chosen the NFH-90 as preferred just as they had preferred Gibbs & Cox for the AWD contest? My understanding is that regardless of whether you convert the aircraft or ships to one or the other system, there is significant cost and engineering involved.


I have no problem with the NH/NFH/MRH-90 concept at all. What I have a huge problem with is the way the program has been managed, both in Europe and Australia. Not one airframe should have been going to any Squadron till the major bumps were ironed out of the program, that clearly hasn't happened. However in the long run the design (if properly managed) offers the kind of step change in abilities and performance that it's capability cannot be ignored. However in my opinion it should not have been seen and purchased as a replacement to the UH-60 fleet but as a bigger compliment, with the former undergoing refurb and upgrade. Same goes for the Seaking and Seahawk fleet, complement not upgrade was required.

And while we are talking about it, one of the most stupid decisions regarding the MRH-90 purchase was that despite knowing for at least the least the last 10-15 years that they would be operated at sea from vessels like the LPD's and the last 5 years from the Canberra class, there was no impetus to buy the fully marinized variant that included folding tail boom and main rotor. As a result you can expect to see less airframes at sea, and I imagine some quite interesting below deck parking arrangements. In fact I wonder if they will even fit comfortably on the deck lifts?


Yes it does fly in the face of the long touted helicopter fleet rationalizing plan but I for one have found this whole idea a little dubious from day one. The fact is you buy and operate the fleet types you need, not the fleet types the bean counters want you to operate. There is little point in reducing the number of types operated if it stops you from doing tasks that are core imperatives. It was that kind of "it looks good on paper, and in the balance sheet" idiocy that was one of the drivers behind the late 80's Chinook mothballing, and we all know how much of a farce that turned into. Yes it would have been nice if the NFH-90 had been low risk and could have been purchased alongside it's land based cousins but in the end I think that some competency and sanity has prevailed and the right aircraft that is available has been purchased.

Yes the DMO must have been largely ignored this time.

iksnorb said...

Just to clarify, I agree fleet rationalization is great on the proviso, as you said, that the platform provides the capability required.
With regard to the Romeo, it was a slam dunk IMO from the beginning being a proven platform.
& yes, I also find it odd that we did'nt have S-70s refurbed to MH-60std.

Ely said...

Bushranger 71,
Here is a paper (#1) on the ship restraint, securing and traversing options RAST and ASIST. As I understand it the standard Romeo is configured for RAST. For ASIST, tracking beacons and a different probe is required for the helicopter. A RAST Romeo (and other RAST fitted aircraft)will be incompatible with the full function of an ASIST fitted ship. An ASIST-fitted helicopter without modification, will likewise not be able to employ all functions of a RAST-fitted ship. Different pilot and deck personnel operating skills are needed for each system.So there are training overheads presumably.
NFH 90 is presently fitted with a different securing system again (to ASIST & RAST) ie the NATO probe (Harpoon) which operates to a ship mounted grid. A separate traversing system is required. Why was ASIST chosen for AWD? I am guessing, but probably because it was cheaper, lighter and/or took up less space. Maybe (therefore) Spain has specified ASIST in (our) ship's baseline. Performance including ILS in a specific aircraft was probably was not effectively assessed-how could it have been? Although it should have been modelled.
Re modifying our S70B2: I propose that the configuration of our orphan S70B2 is so different now to the baseline that there would be considerably greater risk,incl time and cost with attempting to bring ours up to the Romeo standard. I am guessing that it would amount to a green-field project when compared to procuring the MOTS Romeo. But with that said I do not know the concept, end state or other implications planned for our reworked S70B2 which are all relatively young ITO airframe hours.
Re commonality and therefore logistic and operating advantage of operating both MRH/NFH variants iaw the "one type fleet"-the notion has been investigated by another operator and found to offer insufficient benefits but also additional costs and risks. You are right to mention MRH was not designed to go to sea even with folding head and tail etc. We know better of course.

Bushranger 71 said...

Hi Goldeel1; thank you for the heads up on the paper re shipborne helo securing systems.

My query was prompted after beers with a Navy EngO at a recent Garden Island wake for an RAN aviator colleague. He informed me that some modifications to RAST-equipped aircraft would be necessary for compatibility with ASIST on the AWDs.

I thus began wondering whether we are going to see 2 versions of the MH-60R, some for ANZAC class frigates and some for AWD!

I surmize DoD will lay low on this issue.

Goldeel1 said...

Hi Bushranger, thanks for the compliment but alas it was not I who posted the link but Ely. However Im quite happy to take the credit!

Yes it would be just so typical if we end up with two distinct fleets of MH-60R With the majority say 18-20, able to deploy on the ANZAC's and FFG's and a small force of 4-6 spec'd to operate from the 3 AWD's.

Why should we be surprised though?

Bushranger 71 said...

Sorry Ely; just a symptom of my 'antiquity'!!!

ely said...

The fitment of ASIST in the AWD also raises the question of how do we achieve maximum interoperability with alies and partners who only operate RAST capable helicopters?
The major operating difference between the two systems is that with ASIST the helicopter is able to be secured only after it has landed. With RAST the aircraft is substantially secured before it lands on. The image on the front of this DSTO flyer indicates the importance of this point (I think).

Tiger73 said...

There is no requirement for separate ASIST and RAST versions of the MH-60R.

The differences between RAST and ASIST from an aircraft side are:

1. RAST uses a messenger cable (lowered through the centre of the Main RAST probe) to winch the hauldown cable up to the aircraft for conducting Recovery Assist (RA) landings. ASIST doesn't use a hauldown cable and hence no messenger cable. However the probe themselves are virtually identical. An ASIST aircraft, without the messenger cable, is fully cable of conducting Freedeck, landing into the RAST RSD without hauldown, and Cleardeck, direct to filght deck with no RSD on deck. With the messenger cable winch fitted to the probe an ASIST aircraft would be fully RAST capable. Straightening of the aircraft is conducted by connecting cables to the aft tie down fittings once the aircraft is shutdown.

2. ASIST has IR beacons fitted to the aircraft to enable the ASIST system to track the aircraft above the flight deck. RAST doesn't track the aircraft so this is a non issue. Straightening of the aircraft to stow it in the hangar is done via the ASIST RSD.

Thus with two relatively straightforward additions (messenger cable and tailwheel probe) an ASIST aircraft is fully compatible with RAST and ASIST.

RAST and ASIST are both Curtis-Wright products are share a certain amount of commonality.

With regards to interoperability with allied Navy's RAST/non-ASIST helicopters it comes down to a question of deck motion limits. In higher sea states (SS5+) probably won't be able to recover a non ASIST fitted aircraft. There is always the option of doing a Cleardeck (i.e. non-ASIST/RAST) landing. Which is done everytime a non-RAST aircraft (e.g Sea King landing on FFG) (and for a RAST aircraft if the RSD is not required/unavailable due to own aircraft being in the hangar, the RSD also moves the aircraft to the hangar)) lands on an ANZAC/FFG. Anyway we rarely embark (as opposed to a land on for refuel,visit etc.) another nations aircraft in our ships, so once again a non issue. Fitting RAST or ASIST to a ship doesn't prevent a non RAST/ASIST aircraft from operating to that ship. Without the RSD (Rapid Securing Device) on deck the flight deck is completely flat and no different to any other ship.

RAST doesn't "secure" the aircraft before landing it merely provides a centring force to guide the aircraft towards the RSD. The S-70-B2 can easily snap a hauldown cable (known it to happen twice on RAN ships) and there is a weak link in the cable. This isn't needed with ASIST as the RSD follows the aircraft and thus is always directly underneath it. in both systems the aircraft is secured on touchdown

As for the comment about Navy selecting ASIST for the AWD in order to possibly go down the line of selecting NH90 to replace the S-70B-2, this ignores the reality of the RAN originally wanting to go sole source for the MH-60R.

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Ely said...

I had not seen the comment by Tiger 73 before tonight. The point remains that the configurations and functions of ASIST and RAST ships and helicopter are significantly different. The RAST equipped helicopter (whatever type it is) is substantially secured to the RAST equipped ship once the messenger is passed and coupled although the deck motion limits applicable when the aircraft is secured in the RSD do not apply which I think is T73's point and I did not intend to suggest that they did. With RAST the messenger is required for reliably locating the the helicopter in (in terms of pilot locating ability) the small capture area of the RAST RSD as it lands.Free flight of a RAST (or ASIST) probe into the RAST RSD is problematic. The ASIST system with the assistance provided by aircraft-fitted beacons etc tracks and grasps the probe, but after the helicopter has landed. The cost and operational implications of having ASIST or RAST fitted to our ships with our helicopters or those of our allies fitted with one system or the other or both has not to my knowledge been discussed and it is an interesting consideration. The suggestion that it is a minor detail I doubt is actually the case. Of course free deck is always an option but then you need to expose your flightdeck people to risk as they secure the aircraft post landing while the ship is also constrained perhaps to a benign course and speed as the helicopter is strapped down and reduced ship motion limits perhaps need to be taken into account.The traversing function considerations are different again.
As far as NH9O is concerned I believe the aircraft is presently configured for the NATO Harpoon and grid restraint and securing system with undoubtedly eventually practicable options for other securing and restraint systems including RAST and ASIST.I understand for example that FREM frigates use both Harpoon for securing and ASIST for traversing but details and certificated performance are unknown. All involve risk and cost.And the u/c geometry of NH90 is substantially different to that of Seahawk Romeo or our S70B2.

Bushranger 71 said...

Most of the advertising hype re the MH-60R emphasises 'interoperability', but is this valid? DWP2009 says:

'Interoperable Capability - 8.65. Interoperability is principally concerned with the ability of personnel and systems of different nations and agencies to work effectively together, safely and securely. Where it makes sense to do so, and it is cost-effective and in keeping with the policy settings in this White Paper, capabilities and systems should be designed to be interoperable from conception, not as an afterthought in the capability development process.'

This principally means combined and joint services doctrine, operating practices, communications procedures/security, maybe ammunition commonality, etcetera. It does not imply platform commonality.

The principal advantageous characteristics of helicopters are flexibility and versatility. Seemingly, their most common naval roles in Australia are ship to shore stuff and boarding party lodgement/recovery. The RAN itself jettisoned an effective ASW capability when it deliberately removed the dunking sonar from Sea Kings and did not fit a substitute to Seahawks.

DWP2009 also says:

'Operational Flexibility - 8.61. Australia cannot afford to maintain a large number of narrowly applicable capabilities. The future development of the ADF is to emphasise, wherever possible, operational flexibility and multirole employment in the ADF's systems, platforms and organisations. This might involve, for example, achieving greater platform flexibility by way of inter-changeable modular design and construction techniques.'

There are wheel base issues with various models of Seahawk, and maybe airframe securing systems as discussed; but the Romeo is so stuffed with occasional use ASW/ASuW gear that it foreseeably will not have the flexibility of other platforms to also adequately perform boarding party and ship to shore replenishment roles.

Not much point in having defence policy guidelines if they are virtually ignored in hardware acquisition planning.