Any Australian purchase of the MH-60R ‘Romeo’ naval helicopter would be accompanied by a A$1 billion ‘Australian Industry Capability’ package, while the aircraft could be available for delivery in the fourth quarter of 2011, ‘Team Romeo’ officials told media in Canberra on October 22.
The Lockheed Martin/Sikorsky MH-60R is one of two contenders for the Air 9000 Phase 8 requirement for 24 helicopters to replace the RAN’s existing 16 S-70B Seahawks and the 11 cancelled Kaman SH-2G Super Seasprites, in competition with the European NFH90. Any MH-60R acquisition would take place under FMS (Foreign Military Sale) government-to-government arrangements, but Team Romeo has pledged an Australian Industry Capability package on top of any FMS deal.
Elements of that package would include establishing a facility at Nowra which would employ 125-150 people.
“We estimate about a third of that A$1 billion would be related to through life support,” said Leonard Wengler, Sikorsky’s VP naval programs. Other work for Australian industry would come in the introduction into service phase, and “global supply chain opportunities”.
“An agreement would be put in place between the corporations (Lockheed Martin and Sikorsky) and the Australian government to allow Australian companies to bid on future (MH-60R) work,” said Chris Clapperton, general manager business development for Sikorsky Helitech. Further, conversion of civilian airliners to freighters has even been identified as one area of work that could be undertaken under the Romeo industry package.
With the MH-60R now in production for and in service with the US Navy, Team Romeo says there is sufficient flexibility in production schedules to allow deliveries to Australia to begin as early as the fourth quarter of 2011, possibly allowing the RAN to have an IOC (initial operating capability) as soon as late 2012.
“We haven’t really discussed that (an IOC date) in detail,” said Clapperton, “But our top level analysis believes it would be 12 months from first aircraft delivery to when they would be able to achieve IOC.”
An IOC date “really depends on how fast they (the RAN) really want to ramp up,” said Wengler.
Remarked Lockheed Martin VP business development for maritime systems Ronald Christenson, “There’s really no such thing as a no-risk program. But this is as close to a no-risk program that’s available today.”
A subsequent report in The Australian newspaper on October 23 suggested that ADF officials have already recommended to government that the MH-60R be acquired under a “sole source” order ahead of the rival NFH90. The report says the MH-60R is the preferred option due to its lower risk compared to the still developmental NFH 90. This is despite the NFH90’s commonality benefits with the troop transport MRH 90, 46 of which are currently entering Army and Navy service.