May 2, 2012: Australia has completed finding suppliers of electronics for the 24 American MH-60R Seahawk anti-submarine helicopters it ordered for its warships last year. Each of these helicopters will be equipped with $13.2 million worth of electronics for anti-submarine work, navigation, communications, and the cockpit. The first MH-60R will arrive in two years.
The MH-60R is a navalized version of the 11 ton U.S. Army UH-60. Australia can use the MH-60Rs for search and rescue, as well as for ASW (Anti-Submarine Warfare). The ASW work involves using computers, sonar, and radar to search for submarines. This involves sailors on the MH-60Rs staring at a screen most of the time, while manipulating the sensors and computers to detect and locate subs. Once you have a solid location fix you can launch a torpedo and sink the enemy vessel.
The MH-60R uses a sonar that operates in active (broadcasting) and passive (just listening) mode. This is a dipping sonar, which is lowered into the water from the helicopter using a 806 meter (2,500 foot) cable and winch. The MH-60R is also equipped with a radar system for detecting subs on the surface, or just beneath the surface (with only the periscope or snorkel, which provides air for the diesel engine and gets rid of the exhaust fumes, above the surface). The sonar system also uses sonobuoys, which are dropped and communicate wirelessly. For search and rescue work the sonar and all its associated electronics are removed but the radar stays. The MH-60 can hover low enough to deploy a line to people in the water and winch them aboard.
Australia had originally planned to use the naval version of the NH-90 helicopters it had ordered for its ground forces. But the first NH-90s to arrive suffered from poor performance. The overall complaint was poor reliability, design, and durability. Many more spare parts have to be stocked than was originally planned. There have been long waits to get needed spares from the manufacturer (NHIndustries). The Australian experience was similar to what the Germans encountered with their NH-90s. The Australian Navy then decided to go with the MH-60R, which has been in naval service for decades and is a known quantity.
The ten ton NH-90 can carry 21 troops or twelve casualties on stretchers, plus the crew of two. It first flew in 1995. The manufacturer is a consortium of French, German, Dutch, and Italian firms and has promised to fix all the problems. The Germans and Australians noted that, when it worked, the NH-90 worked well. But the effort was taking too long for the Australian Navy, where there was a need for helicopters that just worked.