MH-60R copters bring India-US ‘ops’ on same page

IDD Insight

India has started getting submarine hunting helicopters from the US, widening its arc of abilities. The US Navy uses the same copters, meaning the on-board equipment allow seamless operations and information sharing between the copters, planes and warships of the countries.

India and the US now increasingly look at each to operate in tandem or in coordination in the Indo-Pacific and also in the Quadilateral, or the Quad – that has Australia and Japan besides US and India.

India, on July 16 accepted the first two of the MH 60-R helicopters made by US major, Lockheed Martin. These bring in un-paralleled ‘three dimensional capabilities’ for the Navy –ability to hit at the surface, strike at targets in the air and at underwater targets.

The copters were ‘handed over’ to Taranjit Singh Sandhu, Indian Ambassador to USA at a ceremony at San Diego. The exchange of helicopter documents was done between Vice Admiral  Ravneet Singh, Deputy Chief of the Indian Navy and Vice Admiral  Kenneth Whitesell, Commander Naval Air Forces, US Navy. 

 Vice Adm. Kenneth Whitesell, Commander, U.S. Naval Air Forces, left, presents the Material Inspection and Receiving Report for first aircraft to Vice Adm. Ravneet Singh, Indian Navy Deputy Chief of Naval Staff, during an acceptance ceremony. Pic Petty Officer 2nd Class Sara Eshleman

The two copters were handed over to India from the supplies meant for the US Navy and have many India specific missiles and  torpedoes.

India has ordered 24 MH-60R copters in February 2020 at cost of $  2.6 billion ( Rs 18200 crore) by opting for the foreign military sales (FMS) route. 

The growing India US ties

The MH-60R is the third US-made  rotary-wing platform to join the Indian arsenal in the past three years. The heavy lift Chinook CH-47 and the Apache AH 64E attack copters – both made by Boeing – have been inducted.

In February last year when the deal ,for MH 60 R copters was announced, the US President Donald Trump had said “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.”

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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 copters will strengthen the US.-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.

Why The MH-60R

The multi-role MH -60R Lockheed Martin copters are the same as used by the US Navy.  The acquisition will provide “teeth” to the Indian 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.

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.

A screen shot of the abilities of the copter

The helicopters are designed to operate from frigates, destroyers, cruisers and aircraft carriers.

The Lockheed Martin copters offers the very latest in submarine hunting technology like electro-optics and firepower on board. India, at present uses the AgustaWestland made Sea King 42 and the Kamov-28. The Sea Kings were acquired 40 years ago from UK while the Kamov’s – from the erstwhile USSR are more than 30 years old.

Hamid Salim, Vice President, Sikorsky Maritime & Mission Systems said: “The delivery of the first two MH-60R Romeo helicopters to the Indian Navy marks the beginning of a new era of collaboration and partnership between the United States Navy, the Indian Navy”.

The ability of a ASW copter

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.

The new helicopter is expected to add to the potential of the Indian Navy’s Boeing P-8I maritime patrol aircraft. Ten of the P8I are in the fleet and another two are on order. The aircraft have the ability to quickly search a wide area over water, the MH-60R can then be launched from ship decks to specific areas.

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.

MH-60R a tested copter

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.

“MH-60R is the most advanced maritime multi-mission helicopter in operation – deployed globally, and its mission performance by far, second to none.”

William L. Blair, Vice President and Chief Executive, Lockheed Martin India:

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.

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