Three Royal Australian Navy aircrew were safely rescued after performing an emergency landing and ditching their MH-60R Seahawk helicopter in the Philippine Sea, following an undisclosed flight incident overnight.
The incident has led to the Australian Defence Force temporarily suspending all flying operations of the MH-60R Seahawk fleet, as it conducts its investigation into the cause of the incident, just days after signing off on a $1.3 billion deal to bolster its Seahawk fleet.
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 have received first aid for minor injuries.
HMAS Brisbane and HMAS Warramunga are searching the area for any debris to support the ADF’s investigation.
“With the aircrew safe, investigating the circumstances that led to the helicopter ditching is the priority at the moment,” Commander of the Australian Fleet, Rear Admiral Mark Hammond said.
Defence is also reviewing the impact of the incident on the Regional Presence Deployment.
Rear Admiral 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 comes 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 (DSCA) 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 Hannah Dowling.