India is procuring 24 MH-60R helicopters by 2025 as part of a Rs 15,000-crore deal with the US government. They will be deployed for anti-submarine warfare, anti-ship strikes, specialised maritime operations as well as search and rescue missions

The Indian Navy got a big shot in the arm to its combat capabilities on Thursday after receiving two MH-60 ‘Romeo’ multi-mission helicopters from the US.

Indian Navy officials said the two choppers were delivered at Cochin airport on Thursday while another helicopter is scheduled to be delivered next month. The first three MH-60 ‘Romeo’ helicopters were delivered in the US in 2021 and are being used for training of the Indian Navy crew, they said.

In all, the Indian Navy is slated to receive 24 helicopters from the US, all of which will be armed with Hellfire missiles and lethal rocket systems.

With Thursday’s delivery, the total number of choppers handed over to the Indian Navy has gone up to five. India is procuring the choppers as part of an around Rs 15,000-crore deal with the US government under the framework of foreign military sales.

“The delivery of all 24 MH-60R helicopters will be completed by 2025. The induction of state-of-the-art mission capable platforms will significantly boost the integral anti-submarine warfare capability of the Indian Navy,” said an official.

Let’s take a closer look at the MH-60R chopper, how it will boost Indian Navy’s capabilities and India’s long wait to get it:

What Is It?

The MH-60R helicopter manufactured by Lockheed Martin Corporation is an all-weather helicopter designed to support multiple missions with state-of-the-art avionics and sensors. The helicopters, designed to operate from frigates, destroyers, cruisers and aircraft carriers, are the US Navy’s primary anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface weapon system for open ocean zones.

According to the Lockheed Martin website, the MH-60R is the world’s most advanced maritime helicopter.

These helicopters are fourth generation and are members of the Sikorsky S-70 family.

Over 300 MH-60R Seahawk helicopters are operational worldwide with over 600,000 flight hours accumulated, as per the website.

The choppers are being used in international operations by the US Navy, Royal Danish Navy, Royal Australian Navy and Royal Saudi Naval Forces. The first batch of the aircrew of the Indian Navy completed its training in the US to operate the MH-60 ‘Romeo’ multi-role helicopters, the Navy said in April.

“Indian Navy’s first batch of MH-60R ‘Romeo’ aircrew successfully completed their training at the naval air station, North Island, San Diego, on 1 April,” the navy said in a statement.

“The 10-month long course included conversion training and other advanced qualifications on MH-60R helicopter. The crew flew extensively from helicopter maritime strike squadron — 41 (HSM 41) and achieved day and night deck landing qualification onboard a US Navy destroyer,” it said.

It said the crew would be responsible for inducting the versatile ‘Romeo’ into the Indian Navy.

How Will It Boost The Indian Navy's Capabilities?

As per The Print, these helicopters will fulfil the Indian Navy’s requirements for anti-submarine operations amid China’s increasing forays into the waters around India.

The navy currently uses the P-8I aircraft for this purpose.

As per Financial Express, these Romeo aircraft can detect unknown submarines and ships lurking in the waters and have the capability to launch submarine detection Sonobuoys — both active and passive as part of anti-submarine (ASW) ops.

ASW assets are vital for any fleet as they help alert about threat of a stealth submarine. These assets provide an ASW screen and will help to neutralise any hostile submarine or underwater threats, as per the report.

These can be loaded with missiles and torpedoes for ASW action, as per Financial Express.

The choppers will also replace the navy’s ageing British-built Sea King helicopters now used mostly for transport.

‘Romeo’ choppers also have anti-surface-warfare capabilities, which means they will be capable of detecting surface threats and taking action against enemy ships too, as per The Print.

These choppers can perform a slew of tasks including tracking and engaging with submarines, search and rescue ops, logistics support, personnel transport, medical evacuation, and surveillance.

“These multi-mission helicopters have command, control, communications, computers and intelligence (C4I) capabilities and are designed for anti-submarine (ASW) and Anti-Surface Warfare ((ASuW), and they are capable of engaging targets which are over the horizon,” a C4I expert told Financial Express Online earlier this year.

India's Long Wait To Get It

India has been in need of the Seahawk helicopters for over a decade.

The US state department under the Donald Trump administration in 2019 had approved the sale of 24 multi-role MH-60 Romeo Seahawk helicopters to India.

The proposed sale will provide India the capability to perform anti-surface and anti-submarine warfare missions along with the ability to perform secondary missions including vertical replenishment, search and rescue, and communications relay,” the Pentagon had said.

The state department had said the proposed sale will support the foreign policy and national security of America by strengthening the US-India strategic partnership. It added that India will use the helicopters as a deterrent for threats from its neighbours and for homeland security.