Never a dull moment
While progress has continued across US military helicopter programmes, one platform that has garnered its share of headlines is the Black Hawk, with developments in the Middle East and across Asia-Pacific.
As more refurbished UH-60s take on an array of roles in the civil market, the aircraft remains a popular choice for military forces.
Notably, in June this year, Sikorsky received the go-ahead from the US Army for a five-year contract worth $3.8 billion, which includes 40 UH-60M Black Hawks to Saudi Arabia. There is scope for another 103 aircraft, meaning the contract could rise by a further $1.4 billion. It is anticipated that first deliveries will take place three months from now and carry on into 2022.
A Sikorsky spokesperson stated that the base contract of 257 aircraft includes 182 UH-60M Black Hawks – 142 for the US Army and the 40 for the Saudi Arabian National Guard (SANG) – as well as 75 HH-60M medevac aircraft.
In July, the Royal Thai Army (RTA) ordered four more UH-60M Black Hawks from Sikorsky after receiving US Congressional approval. This acquisition will enable the RTA to field a complete squadron of 16 aircraft.
In addition, the Republic of China Air Force will replace its Sikorsky S-70C Bluehawk fleet with UH-60M Black Hawks beginning in December, it announced in April, while in August, the Brazilian Air Force announced that its UH-60L Black Hawk had reached 30,000 flight hours.
Meanwhile, the US Army’s programme to upgrade its legacy UH-60L Black Hawks with a new digital cockpit is proceeding apace following the first flight of the prototype model in January. Some 760 legacy UH-60L models will undergo a major cockpit upgrade to UH-60V standard that will allow them to remain on duty alongside UH-60Ms into the 2030s and beyond.
However, it is not just the Black Hawk spreading its wings across the globe. Boeing’s military helicopter offerings in the form of the AH-64E and AH-6i have also been gathering momentum, with the first set of the latter received by the SANG in June. The 12 aircraft were delivered to the first operational brigade.
The company has also been awarded a $223 million FMS contract for eight CH-47F Chinooks, as part of a wider multiyear deal with Saudi Arabia, the US DoD announced on 23 August, while in June the UK MoD announced a six-year £48 million Apache helicopter training contract.
Boeing is not the only company for whom there have been developments, with a number of news items – both positive and negative – emerging for other OEMs.
MD Helicopters revealed in March at Heli-Expo 2017 that its new 6XX will be marketed to military as well as civil customers. It was originally designed for a foreign military customer, but it is unlikely a contract will materialise.
At another helicopter show, MAKS 2017 in Moscow, Russian Helicopters showcased its latest military derivative of the Mi-8/17 portfolio, the Mi-171Sh-VN attack helicopter.
While Pakistan’s navy is set to receive seven former UK MoD Sea Kings by the end of this year, Leonardo will supply an undisclosed number of AW139 intermediate twin-engine helicopters to the government of the country early next year.
However, an Indian Navy deal valued at over $1 billion for 16 multirole helicopters was given a quiet burial after being scrapped by the MoD. Price negotiations with Sikorsky for the S-70B Seahawk collapsed in June, ending a deal that held much promise for the navy, which is wrestling with issues in relation to its current Sea King fleet.
Bell Helicopter highlighted imminent deliveries of its tiltrotor and attack helicopter offerings across Asia at the Paris Air Show. The company will see the first V-22 handed over to Japan in September/ October this year while the AH-1Z Viper will start to be delivered to Pakistan soon.
Sikorsky’s CH-53K King Stallion is entering production and company officials are confident that the USMC Heavy Lift Replacement Program is on track.