MH-60R and Apache copters for India. $ 3 billion deal

IDD Bureau

In a path breaking deal, US will supply to India two types of helicopters costing more some $ 3 billion ( Rs 21,000 crore). These will Include 24 of the marine helicopters MH-60R, made by Lockheed Martin and an additional six Apache AH 64E made by Boeing.

The sales will be through the foreign military sales (FMS) route and both types of copters will be game changers.  The announcement shows the growth of India US ties and strategic decision of India on aligning itself to the US.

US President Donald Trump announced the sales of the MH-60R Seahawk and the Apache at a joint press briefing with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi on Wednesday. Modi said “Defence ties are important for relationship” while Trump at an event in Ahmedbad on Feb 24 described the copters as

“The absolute finest, state-of-the-art military helicopters”.

US President Donald Trump

The MH-60R

The multi-role MH -60R Lockheed Martin copters are the same as used by the US Navy. Indian Navy will get 24 of these.  The acquisition will provide “teeth” to the Navy in its role of dominating the Indian Ocean. The area between the Persian Gulf ( around the Middle east) and the Straits of Malacca ( a key trade route or ships bound towards China & Japan) is what India sees itself as leader.

India’s submarine hunting abilities would be clearly ahead of China after induction of new copters. But just 24 may not be enough, Read it here

The copter has full anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capability, as well as anti-surface warfare capability, including anti-ship missiles. In other words it can hunt submarines as well as knock out ships and conduct search-and-rescue operations at sea.

The helicopters are designed to operate from frigates, destroyers, cruisers and aircraft carriers. The Lockheed Martin-built helicopters would replace India’s ageing fleet of British-made Sea King helicopters.

The Lockheed Martin copters offers the very latest in submarine hunting technology like electro-optics and firepower on board.

An MH 60 R deploying a sea dunking sonar. Pic Lockheed martin

The helicopter can be launched from ship decks. An ASW-capable helicopter with its sea-dunking sonars is a favoured platform for detecting a submarine as an over-flying helicopter itself cannot be detected or targeted from a submarine.

Dan Spoor, Vice President, Sikorsky Maritime and Mission Systems (owned by Lockheed Martin) says  “We stand behind the U.S. Navy and look forward to having the Indian Navy become the fourth international country, joining Australia, Denmark and Saudi Arabia, to operate the MH-60R Romeo, the most advanced maritime helicopter in the world.”

This platform will provide the Indian Navy with the capability to identify, engage, and defeat maritime security threats along with the ability to perform secondary missions including vertical replenishment and search and rescue, he added.

Such helicopters are needed as over the past one year or more, submarines of the People Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) of China have been constantly noticed in the Indian Ocean. With submarine technology becoming more sophisticated, tracking these under-sea vessels is a challenge. China has 61 submarines, including nine nuclear-powered, allowing longer endurance.

Why the MH-60 R

Over 300 MH-60R Seahawk helicopters operating worldwide with over 600,000 flight hours accumulated.

The Indian requirements comprise a long list including spare engines, specific missile, Mk-54 torpedoes and also the ‘inert training rounds of the Naval Strike Missile without actually procuring the missile itself. The Naval Strike Missile (NSM) is designed to hit targets such as ships more than 180 kilometres away.

It has Multi-Mission Capability that is unmatched in its class. It offers superior maritime capabilities. A fully integrated mission system builds complete situational awareness and actionable knowledge, enabling target engagement both close-in and over-the-horizon.

Lockheed Martin, which is the world’s biggest Arms  company , says on its website that the copter is the most reliable and cost effective option in it class. Its availability is 98 percent and has an operating cost of less than $ 5000 per flight hour.  It has the lowest life-cycle cost in its class, says the company website.

A video of the MH 60R in operation : courtesy Lockheed Martin

The Apache AH 64E

Indian Air Force  is already flying the copter. Some 22 are on order  and the six additional ones are to be given to the Indian Army.  The first lot of the attack copters was inducted at Pathankot in September 2019.   The copter made its debut at India’s Republic day parade in January 2020 . Read it here.

It is the first attack helicopter from the US to be operated by India. The Army will get six customised to suit future requirements, it will have significant capability in mountainous terrain up to an altitude of 21,000 ft besides capability to carry out precision attacks at standoff ranges and operate in hostile airspace.

The  helicopter has the capability to carry out precision attacks at standoff ranges and operate in hostile airspace with threats from ground.

The Apache first flight in India in Sept 2019. Courtesy IAF

The ability of these helicopters to transmit and receive the battlefield picture to and from the weapon systems through data networking makes it a lethal acquisition.

These helicopters will provide a significant edge in any future joint operations in support of land forces. The Apache is fitted with new sensors, avionics and has improved night operation capabilities. Furthermore, it can control a couple of UAVs.

The airframe is designed to withstand hits from guns of up to 12.7 mm calibre. Rotor blades can withstand hits from 23 mm guns. The pilots get systems for the detection and attack of targets. The AH-64E comes with a 30 mm M230 cannon with 1,200 rounds of ammunition.

The growing India US ties

US President Donald Trump had said in Ahmedabad on Feb 24 “As we continue to build our defense cooperation, the United States looks forward to providing India with some of the best and most feared military equipment on the planet”.

Trump said “I believe that the United States should be India’s premier defense partner, and that’s the way it’s working out.”

US President Donald Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at talks in New Delhi

Notably, the copters are coming after both countries signed the Communications, Compatibility, Security Agreement (COMCASA),   one of the ‘foundational agreement allowing the US to share encrypted communication and satellite data with India.

This proposed sale will strengthen the U.S.-Indian strategic relationship. The US sees this as improvement for India which it sees as a “major defense partner which continues to be an important force for political stability, peace, and economic progress in the Indo-Pacific and South Asia region”.

India was granted the unique Major Defence Partner (MDP) designation in 2016 by the Obama administration — a step towards India accessing US military technology at a level on a par with those of the U.S.’s closest allies. India was then given Strategic Trade Authorisation-1 (STA-1) status by the US in August 2018, the third Asian country after South Korea and Japan to acquire it. This was to further facilitate the transfer of technology in the defence and space sectors.

The copters will be compatible with American warships, drones and submarines. Both sides already engage in very high end Naval exercises and are close strategic partners.

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