The United States had approved the sale of 24 MH-60R helicopters to India, significantly boosting its emerging ally’s fire power to target submarines as China expands in the Indian Ocean.
In a quick reply to a request submitted late last year by India, the State Department said it was informing the US Congress as legally required that it was giving the green light for India to buy the 24 helicopters worth a total of $2.6 billion.
The MH-60R helicopters manufactured by Lockheed Martin are designed for hunting submarines as well as knocking out ships and conducting search and rescue operations at sea.
This proposed sale will support the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to strengthen the US-Indian strategic relationship and to improve the security of a major defensive partner.
It called India a major defensive partner which continues to be an important force for political stability, peace and economic progress in the Indo – Pacific and South Asia region.
India, which had estranged relations with the United States since the Cold War, has emerged as one of its leading defense partner with the interests of the world’s two largest democracies largely overlapping amid their concerns over a rising China and Islamist extremism.
Romeo Seahawk helicopters will replenish India’s aging fleet of British made Sea King helicopters.
It has been alarmed by China’s growing interest in the Indian Ocean as it becomes a global naval power.
In a strategy dubbed by Indian and US observers as the “string of pearls,” China has made use of a growing number of naval bases in the Indian Ocean.
India has been in need of these formidable anti-submarine hunter helicopters for more than a decade now.
Currently deployed with the US Navy as the primary anti submarine warfare anti surface weapon system for Open Ocean and littoral zones, the helicopters are considered the world’s most advanced maritime helicopter.
It is the most capable naval helicopter available today designed to operate from frigates, destroyers, cruisers and aircraft carriers.
MH-60 Romeo Seahawks would add lethal capabilities of the Indian Navy, which experts say is the need of the hour given the aggressive behaviour of China in the Indian Ocean region.
According to US Naval Air System Command, the MH-60R Seahawk missions are anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare, surveillance, communications relay, combat search and rescue, naval gunfire support and logistics support.
As the Navy’s next generation submarine hunter and anti-surface warfare helicopter, the MH-60R Seahawk is considered to be the cornerstone of the Navy’s Helicopter Concept of Operations.
The Seahawk helicopters made by Lockheed Martin Corp. would be equipped with weapons such as Hellfire missiles, torpedoes and rockets. The proposed deal also includes one MH-60B/R Excess Defense Article (EDA) helicopter from the US Navy.
India is the second largest importer of arms world wide, just behind Saudi Arabia, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s 2018 report. Leading arms sellers to India include Russia, Israel and the US.
“These are multi role helicopter they can perform a variety of functions, including surveillance, replenishment and search and rescue. however, these helicopters are designed for an anti submarine warfare role. The new acquisition is a replacement for the Sea King Mk-42s whose numbers are fast depleting.
Such helicopters, with anti- submarine capability are critical assets for any navy.
In July 1971, the first British made Sea King helicopter landed on the deck of INS Vikrant, India’s first aircraft carrier.
48 years later, the INS Vikrant is long gone decommissioned and broken up, but variants of the same Sea King helicopter continue to fly.
They have remained the primary anti-submarine helicopter of the Indian Navy, designed to detect enemy submarines and, if necessary, to take them out using torpedoes.
But maintaining the Sea King has been a nightmare for the Indian Navy over the last decade. Parts have been tough to come by and by now, only a handful of the choppers remain operational. Not enough for a fleet which now boasts of some of the world’s most advanced destroyers and frigates.
Most of the Indian Navy’s warships have been operating without a dedicated anti-submarine helicopter using, instead, a Chetak (Alouette III) chopper for multipurpose duties. The Chetak, incidentally, is even older than the Sea King, flying first in 1959, sixty years ago.
The acquisition of the MH-60 has not been easy. The helicopter had been selected thorough a competitive bidding process but the deal collapsed because of concerns with the price. This resulted in the tender being cancelled.
Consequently, the MH-60 Rs. being procured now are fully compatible with American warships, drones and submarines if Indian and American forces decide to operate together in the future. Both sides already engage in very high end Naval exercises and are close strategic partners.