By N. C. Bipindra
New Delhi: India’s navy has got one lean-and-mean fighting machine from the United States that can carry out integrated missions with platforms of American-origin operated by friendly nations in the Indian Ocean Region.
And the Indian Navy is pretty happy that it has got a multi-role helicopter in Lockheed Martin Corporation‘s Sikorsky MH-60R that’s best for anti-submarine warfare against China‘s submarines sneaking closer to Indian waters in recent years.
“It is a beautiful asset to have in the Indian Navy. It enhances our operational advantage in our area of interest,” a top Indian Navy officer said this week but did not want to be identified citing rules.
Area of interest is euphemism for the Indian Ocean Region and beyond, including the South China Sea, where the Indian Navy operates its warships and other assets to protect national interest, be it military or economic.
The MH-60R will come to the Indian Navy with anti-ship missiles, electronic warfare suite and other modern weapons and systems, including the Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System (APKWS) laser-guided rocket from the BAE Systems. However, the weapons package deal for the MH-60R is yet to be finalised and is being negotiated as a separate deal.
The officer cited above also noted that the first two of the 24 MH-60R, or Romeo for short, would be delivered to the Indian Navy within a year’s time, say by May-June 2021.
Kane said Sikorsky would fast-track the delivery of the first three Romeos to India by diverting the United States Navy inventory aircraft and delivering two of them by June next year and the third by June 2022.
“The US Navy has given three of their (Sea Hawk) inventory to the Indian Navy. We had them in preservation under storage. That will allow the first aircraft to be delivered in 12 months by June next year for the Indian Navy to begin training of its crew members,” he said.
However, the US Navy’s inventory aircraft would need modifications to suit the Indian Navy requirements.
“Additional follow-on work will also be required for unique modifications on the systems for the Indian requirement, which is currently going through the bid and proposal process,” said Lockheed Martin India Private Limited‘s Chief Executive William ‘Bill’ Blair during the same video chat.
India and the US had signed the Letter of Acceptance for the 24 Sikorsky MH-60R helicopters for the Indian Navy in February during the visit of US President Donald J. Trump to New Delhi. The entire Romeo deal, along with its modifications and weapons package, could cost up to $2.6 billion.
This was followed up on May 15 with the award of the $905-million contract for building 21 of the Romeos for the Indian Navy and transfer of the three US Navy Romeos to India.
“The signing on this (May 15) contract really jump-starts our production of the MH-60R for India programme,” Blair said, adding that the first aircraft delivery will be in the spring of 2021.
Kane said the training of the Indian crew would happen alongside the US crew after the delivery of the first two Romeos. The delivery and the training will “jump-start” the use of the platform by the Indian crew.
He noted that the same platform is also used by Australia in the Indian Ocean Region. Since the US Navy and other users continues to be investing in the MH-60R capabilities, the benefits of the upgrades in the helicopter programme will accrue to the Indian Navy platforms too, and vice versa.
“India can tap into those new capabilities. It (Romeos) is a real good fit for India. It will vastly improve the maritime security in the region.”
The advantage will also be in the form of interoperability that the Romeos bring to the table between the Indian Navy and the US Navy, and even those navies such as Australia’s. “It will greatly improve interoperability between the two navies in the Indo-Pacific region,” Kane said.
With India and US having signed the Communications Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA), the communications capabilities and the interoperability between their two navies will certainly receive a boost.
India also operates other American platforms as part of its navy, such as the Boeing P-8Is and the INS Jalashwa (formerly USS Trenton) amphibious warship, and it is but obvious that the Romeos will add to those capabilities.
“Integrated mission capability with the warships and the other assets will contribute to the interoperability,” Blair said.