New Delhi: The first of the 24 MH-60 ‘Romeo’ anti-submarine helicopters, meant for the Indian Navy, has taken to the sky in New York for flight trials and is likely to arrive in India by the end of July.
The aircraft is part of the 24 ordered by the Narendra Modi government last year from the US under a nearly USD 2.4 crore deal.
These helicopters are meant to meet the immediate requirement of the Navy which is relying on its P-81 aircraft for anti-submarine operations amid China’s increasing forays into the waters around India.
Sources in the know said that the first India production chopper took flight in Owego of New York. The aircraft will undergo a series of flight trials before a final acceptance by a team of the Indian Navy.
The Naval Air Systems Command of the American military also put out a picture of the Indian Romeo in flight.
When reached by ThePrint, Lockheed Martin, the manufacturers of the helicopters, said that the “delivery of the first batch of the MH-60R helicopters to the Indian Navy will commence by mid-year 2021”.
Sources in the Indian defence establishment told ThePrint that the delivery of the aircraft is on schedule and the first three will arrive in India by the middle of this year.
Asked for a specific timeline, the sources said that the helicopters should arrive by July end.
It was in August 2018 that then Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had approved the deal for the choppers. While the sale was approved in April 2019, the final contract was inked only last year.
Navy to finally get anti-submarine choppers
The Navy has been grappling with its fleet of the ageing British-built Sea King fleet, which is now mostly used for transport rather than its actual role — spotting enemy submarines.
Right now, the Boeing P8i aircraft, which operate from land, are being used to keep vigil on enemy submarines and for reconnaissance missions.
The force is also pursuing a separate programme for 123 Naval Multi-Role Helicopters (NMRH) under the ‘Make in India’ initiative. However, the programme has not made much headway.
Task cut out for the Romeos
The Romeos are deployed by the US Navy as its primary anti-submarine warfare and anti-surface weapons system for the open ocean and littorals.
Known as ‘submarine hunters’, the helicopters will have anti-surface warfare capabilities too, which means they will be capable of detecting surface threats and taking action against enemy ships.
The Indian version of the Romeo helicopters will be equipped with Hellfire air-to-surface missiles and Mark 54 anti-submarine torpedoes.
The helicopters are also capable of performing other maritime roles such as search and rescue, logistics support, personnel transport, medical evacuation and surveillance.
This report has been updated to reflect that the Navy is pursuing a programme for 123, and not 1,243, Naval Multi-Role Helicopters under the ‘Make in India’ initiative. The error is regretted.
(Edited by Manasa Mohan)