US asks Lockheed Martin to make India Navy’s choppers

Photo: Lockheed Martin’s Sikorsky-made MH-60R helicopters.

New Delhi: The Donald Trump administration has asked American defence giant Lockheed Martin Corp. to manufacture multi-role helicopters, MH-60R, for the Indian Navy, at a cost of $905 million.

The Pentagon confirmed the award to Lockheed Martin in a notification yesterday. “Lockheed Martin Corp., Owego, New York, is awarded a $904,800,000 modification (P00011) to a previously awarded firm-fixed-price, cost-plus-fixed-fee contract N00019-19-C-0013,” the notification on the Department of Defense website said.

“This modification provides for the production and delivery of three MH-60R Seahawk maritime aircraft for the Navy and 21 MH-60Rs for the government of India. Work will be performed at Owego, New York (52%); Stratford, Connecticut (40%); and Troy, Alabama (8%), and is expected to be complete by September 2024.

“Fiscal 2020 aircraft procurement (Navy) funds in the amount of $113,100,000 and Foreign Military Sales funds in the amount of $791,700,000 will be obligated at time of award, none of which will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Maryland, is the contracting activity.”

The US Navy announced that India had become the latest country to add the MH-60R SEAHAWK® helicopter to their fleet.

“India’s selection of the MH-60R ‘Romeo’ multi-mission helicopter provides the Indian Navy with the most advanced anti-surface/anti-submarine warfare helicopter in operation today,” Sikorsky Naval Helicopter Programs Director Tom Kane said.

Photo: Sikorsky Naval Helicopter Programs Director Tom Kane.

“The MH-60R offers the lowest risk and best value option because the aircraft is already in full production and globally supportable. The MH-60R provides a vital capability in the Indo-Pacific region and equips the Indian Navy with a tremendous capability that is ready for operations immediately upon delivery. We thank the government of India for its confidence in Sikorsky and look forward to supporting our partners in the Indian armed forces over the next 30 years.”

The Pentagon award only cover the helicopter cost, whereas the negotiations for the weapons package for the helicopter in its anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare roles are still in progress.

In February, during the visit of Trump to India, the two nations had signed an agreement for the $2.6-billion deal to buy 24 Romeos and its allied weapons, in a bid to shore up its capabilities to counter the Chinese warships and submarines that have been venturing closer to the Indian waters since 2007.

The Indian government had approved the purchase of the American helicopters ahead of Trump’s visit, while the US administration gave its nod to the sale to India in April 2019 through a US Congress notification that involved the choppers, sensors, communications and the weapons package.

Among the weapons package would be the Hellfire missiles to target ships, MK 45 torpedoes (the sale is already notified by the Pentagon to the US Congress) and precision strike rocket systems such as the Naval Strike Missile (NSM) developed by the Norwegian company Kongsberg Defence and Aerospace.

India is also pursuing two key purchase proposals for 123 multirole helicopters and 111 utility helicopters for its navy, and has in August 2017 floated requests for information from global chopper manufacturers, including Lockheed Martin Corp and Airbus Helicopters.

The purchase of the American helicopter for the Indian Navy has been pending for the last 10 years and has gained urgency in view of the the presently aging Indian fleet of naval anti-submarine Sea King helicopters purchased from the United Kingdom in the 1970s.

The latest Indian acquisition would add to the growing defence business for American arms companies, who had already notched up around $18-billion worth of contracts in India in the last 12 years. Lockheed Martin has previously sold its C-130J Super Hercules special operations aircraft to India.

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