The Royal Australian Navy has lifted flight restrictions on its MH-60R Seahawk fleet, which were introduced following an emergency landing of the helicopter in the Philippine Sea last week.
Defence suspended all MH-60R helicopter operations as a precaution last week, following a flight incident that saw three aircrew ditch their Seahawk in the Philippine Sea on 13 October during a routine flight.
The RAN has now confirmed that the cause of the incident does not initially appear to have any impact on the greater Seahawk fleet, enabling Defence to lift the grounding order.
“Initial evidence indicates that the incident is not an issue impacting the rest of the MH-60R fleet,” Commander Australian Fleet, Rear Admiral Mark Hammond said.
“The MH-60R is a reliable platform with over 300 operating worldwide. Navy has a rigorous and regular maintenance schedule to ensure they remain both safe and effective.”
At the time of the incident, the helicopter was operating from Hobart Class destroyer HMAS Brisbane as part of a Regional Presence Deployment with Anzac Class frigate HMAS Warramunga.
The three aircrew were rescued by sea boats deployed by HMAS Brisbane approximately 20 minutes after the incident and received first aid for minor injuries.
Defence again confirmed that none of the three service personnel onboard the MH-60R aircraft suffered serious injuries and have since continued serving onboard the HMAS Brisbane.
Information as to what caused the 13 October incident is not yet available.
Following the rescue effort, RADM Hammond lauded the efforts of the emergency response team.
“The successful rescue is credit to the devotion to duty and skill of the officers and sailors of HMAS Brisbane,” he said.
“Their immediate actions ensured the survival of the aircrew, validating the significant training undertaken in the event an emergency of this nature occurs.”
The grounding of the MH-60R Seahawk fleet came just days after the US State Department greenlit the Commonwealth government’s request to purchase an additional 12 Seahawks from Lockheed Martin subsidiary Sikorsky for approximately US$985 million ($1.3 billion).
The deal, which will take the total size of the fleet to 36, was reportedly a response to technical issues associated with the Airbus-built MH-90 Taipan helicopters, deployed by both Navy and Army.
In June, Defence suspended flying operations of its 47 Taipan aircraft as a “safety precaution” after an issue relating to the “application of the helicopter’s maintenance policy” in the aircraft’s IT support system was identified.
This was the latest in a series of technical incidents associated with the Taipan’s operation in recent years.
The new Seahawk deal with Lockheed Martin subsidiary Sikorsky includes the provision of spare engines, radars, targeting systems and rocket and missile launchers.
US contractors are also expected to provide engineering, training and logistics support services.
Australia’s MH-60Rs, which first entered service in 2013, provide submarine hunter and anti-surface warfare capability.
“This proposed sale will support the foreign policy and national security objectives of the United States,” the Defense Security Cooperation Agency said in a statement.
“Australia is one of our most important allies in the western Pacific. The strategic location of this political and economic power contributes significantly to ensuring peace and economic stability in the region.
“It is vital to the US national interest to assist our ally in developing and maintaining a strong and ready self-defence capability.”
The Seahawk is equipped with a sophisticated combat systems designed to employ Hellfire air-to-surface missiles and the Mark 54 anti-submarine torpedo.
Additional reporting by Charbel Kadib.