Few but the most devoted helicopter fans would call the aircraft elegant. Helicopters are noisy and obtrusive, they kick up everything from dust to small dogs when they land and yet… For missions ranging from search and rescue to search and destroy, helicopters are the most elegant creatures in the sky.
The U.S. Navy is just one branch of the military that appreciates the necessity of an elegant solution. Its fleet of MH-60R, or “Romeo,” helicopters is at the forefront of anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare. The aircraft is equipped with a wealth of highly advanced sensors and systems, which it has ably demonstrated in its first few deployments.
The Navy has a five-year contract that runs through 2013 for 131 MH-60Rs, with plans to order an additional 140 aircraft in the near future. The service is banking on its Romeos—literally—announcing $360 million in contract awards to Lockheed Martin, to ensure the aircraft remains modern and relevant.
“The Navy’s investment in the MH-60R fleet secures a tremendous advantage for our pilots and aircrews,” said Capt. Dean Peters, U.S. Navy MH-60 program manager. “Our fleet should have the best and most advanced equipment for every mission. We are looking for reliable, modern aircraft upgraded efficiently and affordably, and that’s why we have devoted these resources to the MH-60 fleet.”
As Lockheed Martin prepares for a late February celebration of its 300th cockpit installation, the Navy exercised a $38 million option under the current multi-year contract to cover production and delivery of the next lot of common cockpits for MH-60S and MH-60R helicopters. The bulk of the work will be performed at Lockheed Martin’s facility in Owego, NY, and is expected to be completed by April 2013.
Situational Awareness Tech Insert (SATI)
Additionally, the Navy will provide MH-60R/S crews with improved situational awareness by incorporating Lockheed Martin’s Situational Awareness Technology Insertion (SATI) aboard the aircraft, a package of upgrades and improvements to the helicopter’s flight management system covered under a $35 million contract. The award covers a pre-development iteration of SATI, an eight-component upgrade package. A new integrated digital map will provide pilots with a clear picture of their operating area, and an upgrade to the Identification Friend-or-Foe system will ensure there is no interference during transmission and that it is interoperable with the Federal Aviation Association and other agencies.
SATI will also include the incorporation of a Digital Aeronautical Flight Information File, a valuable database that contains heliports, navigational aids, airspace, enroute and terminal data covering air routes all over the world. The flight information file is the only comprehensive digital database available for pilots.
“The SATI package make upgrades to essential aircraft systems MH-60 crews rely on every day,” said George Barton, director of Naval Helicopter Programs for Lockheed Martin. “Lockheed Martin is committed to keeping the U.S. Navy MH-60R the most advanced maritime helicopter in the world, and that means keeping pace with constantly evolving technology by integrating upgrades like SATI.”
Automatic Radar Periscope Detection and Discrimination (ARPDD)
One of the most highly advanced systems aboard the MH-60R – Automatic Radar Periscope Detection and Discrimination (ARPDD) – received a $36 million contract award to transition the program from system development and demonstration (SDD) to production. In October 2010, Lockheed Martin and the Navy successfully completed initial flight tests of the system aboard an MH-60R, marking the first time a helicopter has had the functionality for its on-board radar to automatically discriminate between a periscope and other small surface objects, significantly improving the probability of finding a submarine. This recent contract award covers the infrastructure required to meet full-rate production and the fielding of the ARPDD radar system aboard six MH-60R production aircraft to support Initial Operational Capability in 2013.
The radar is built by Telephonics and is the latest iteration of the radar currently deployed with MH-60R, but adds a new ARPDD mode requiring improved radar performance and eight times the processing power of the previous version. The processing power is required to run advanced algorithms developed by the Navy and is what gives ARPDD system the ability to distinguish among clutter.
“The results are very encouraging this early in the program,” said George Barton. “Distinguishing a periscope from floating debris or sea clutter requires massive amounts of computer processing. The ARPDD system draws the sensor operator’s attention to the ‘needle in the haystack’ with a high degree of reliability.”
The Navy will continue to test the ARPDD system in various environments prior to it entering operational evaluation in 2012. Initial operational capability is expected in 2013 aboard the 150th production MH-60R helicopter. To date, Lockheed Martin and aircraft manufacturer Sikorsky Aircraft have delivered 85 mission-ready MH-60R aircraft to the Navy.
Construction of the next lot of 24 MH-60R mission avionics suites and 18 MH-60S cockpits will begin under a $72 million Multi-Year II advanced acquisition contract award that covers long-lead items for the helicopters and cockpit systems. Lockheed Martin and partner Sikorsky Aircraft have delivered more than 85 MH-60R helicopters to date and are on track to reach the century mark early in 2011.
Lockheed Martin was also awarded a $179 million funding increment under a $1.4 billion performance-based logistics (PBL) contract signed between the U.S. Navy and the Maritime Helicopter Support Company (MHSCo), a Lockheed Martin/Sikorsky Aircraft joint venture. The “tip-to-tail” contract ensures full support to the Navy’s fleet of 490 H-60 helicopters. The PBL contract is the largest of its kind for a fully operational naval aircraft fleet. The PBL arrangement continues a long-standing maintenance and logistics partnership between MHSCo and the Navy, and extends the coverage of the fleet out to January 2015.