Will the MH-60R choppers bolster the Indian 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.
Wednesday’s announcement by the United States approving the $ 2.6 billion sale of 24 MH-60R helicopters for the Indian Navy could not have come a day later. Most of the Indian Navy’s warships have been operating without a dedicated anti-submarine helicopter using, instead, a Chetak (Alouette III) chopper for multi-purpose duties. The Chetak, incidentally, is even older than the Sea King, flying first in 1959, sixty years ago.
What are ‘Romeo’ helicopters?
The MH-60 ‘Romeo’ Seahawk helicopters are advanced naval machines equipped with sophisticated combat systems – sensors, missiles and torpedoes – to track and hunt enemy boats.
According to Lockheed Martin, the top American manufacturer of the MH-60 choppers, they are deployed by the US Navy as its primary anti-submarine warfare and anti-surface weapons system for open ocean and littoral zones.
The submarine hunters will have anti-surface warfare capabilities too, which means they will be capable of detecting surface threats and taking action against enemy ships.
The choppers are also capable of performing other non-combat maritime roles such as search and rescue, logistics support, personnel transport, medical evacuation and surveillance. They will be able to operate from frigates, destroyers, cruisers and aircraft carriers.
According to industry experts, it is the most capable naval helicopter available today designed to operate from frigates, destroyers, cruisers and aircraft carriers.
As India signed the much-botched COMCASA ( Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement) with the USA, these helicopters can not only link with Indian Navy assets but also the US Navy assets like Ships, Helicopters and Drones. This will further augment the capabilities of Indian Navy and the defence-offensive venture into the Indian Ocean Region in coming years against a joint Chinese-Pakistani build-up.