As the US Navy looks to add more capabilities onto its MH-60R, Sikorsky could keep the Seahawk’s avionics while lightening the aircraft’s load with a new composite cabin airframe.
The potential crossdeck concept comes as the navy continues to add capabilities and weight to its Seahawk fleet. The navy is planning a series of mid-life updates, including integrating new avionics and mission systems onto the existing aircraft, to keep its MH-60R fleet relevant through the 2040s. The updates will migrate onto the navy’s next-generation maritime helicopter, though whether that will appear as part of the Future Vertical Lift programme or as the separate MH-XX remains to be seen.
Yet with each new capability the service adds onto its next-generation aircraft comes more weight. That degrades the navy’s lift capability in a maritime mission and its ability to perform in hot or tropical zones, says Sam Mehta, president of Sikorsky’s Defence Systems & Services division. Although the Seahawk does not need additional speed, it must maintain significant dwell time to search for enemies, he says.
“The ability to have time on station to look for bad guys, subsurface, that will suffer over time and it’s already suffering,” he says. “The navy kept adding capability to it and now we’re to a point where without either structural modification, or more importantly some upgrades in some of the dynamics, that capability will continue to erode.”
When the Seahawk’s time on station declines, more aircraft are required to perform that same mission to achieve the same objective, he adds.
Rather than build a new aircraft from scratch, which would require a new training doctrine, Sikorsky would keep the avionics and replace the MH-60R’s airframe with a lighter, composite fuselage.
“We’re looking at that for other models when the aircraft come in for some kind of reset activity,” Mehta says.
Another less-invasive update for the aircraft would replace the MH-60’s metal rotorblades with composite versions, he adds. The “Romeo-” and “Sierra-” model MH-60s are Sikorsky’s last production aircraft with metal blades.
“The world has changed over to composites so it’s actually easier for us to produce a high quantity of composite main rotorblades then it is a quantity of metal rotorblades,” he says. “Retrofitting that fleet with composite main rotorblades will provide additional lift capability but also has a significant advantage for life-cycle costs.”
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