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Thursday, October 1, 2009

Program Insider: Navy Upgrading Older H-60s to Support MH-60R/S Deployment

By Douglas Nelms

With the U.S. Navy’s MH-60 Romeo and Sierra programs well into production and being deployed to the fleet, the service is busily upgrading its legacy SH-60B, SH-60F and HH-60H fleets to carry it through until the Romeos and Sierra are fully deployed, according to Commander Larry Patrick, H-60 Program In Service Integrated Program team lead. Through August, 40 MH-60Rs had been delivered to the Navy out of 300 planned, while 145 MH-60Ss out of 275 had been delivered.

Initially designated the SH-60R and S in keeping with their predecessors, the two aircraft have been re-designated MH-60s to reflect the multi-mission roles they will perform while the U.S. Army assigns the MH designation to its Special Operations helicopters.

The Navy has completed prototyping an automated information system (AIS) in an SH-60B out of Mayport, and will beginning installing that into the SH-60B fleet later this year, Patrick said. The AIS is for tracking ships and providing situational awareness of the aircraft. The Navy currently has 141 SH-60Bs left in its inventory and is now in the "sundown plan" for the oldest member of its SH-60 family. The -60Bs will gradually be phased out through 2018.

Another interim capability being given to the -60Bs is a Ku-band datalink that will allow the aircraft to communicate with the Navy’s new Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) as they come online. "That is a couple of years down the road," Patrick said. "We expect to install that on a handful of aircraft by about FY11. Right now all -60Bs have a datalink capability for our current fleet of Navy ships to datalink information back and forth, but the LCS will have a new and improved KU band datalink system."

The older aircraft are also getting the new AAR47 A(V)2 missile warning system. "It’s fielded on quite a few military aircraft, but the Bravo has not had that upgrade, so we’re putting that on a bunch of the aircraft," he said.

The SH-60F is primarily an anti-submarine warfare platform whose major upgrade is a new higher tensile strength sonar cable. To detect submarines, the -60F uses an AQS-13F dipping sonar, which is deployed on a 1575-foot cable while the aircraft hovers roughly 60 feet above the ocean. About half of the 63 SH-60Fs in the fleet have now been equipped with the higher tensile strength cable, "with the rest to follow," Patrick said. The -60F is being gradually phased out through about 2015.

In August the Navy began installing Blue Force Tracker (BFT) systems in the HH-60H, which is used for combat search and rescue work. It currently has 35 HH-60Hs in the fleet. Developed by General Dynamics, the BFT provides situational awareness to identify and track friendly forces and other military assets, as well as "provide emergency communication, exfiltrate data from sensor systems, and allow search and rescue forces to quickly locate, identify, and communicate with at-risk personnel," the company said.

Additional equipment going onto the -60Hs are engine inlet barrier filters to reduce the ingestion of sand and the six-barreled GAU-17 Gatling gun.

The engine inlet filters "are a great plus for operating in the desert environment," while the Gatling gun "is a great tool for the guys out in the theater," Patrick said.

The -60H is also getting an upgrade to the recently installed Fast Tactical Imaging System (FTIS), a laptop computer in the back of the helicopter that the crew monitors. The current system provides FLIR images that can be linked back to ground forces or back to a ship. "It’s being used extensively in anti-piracy operations, and has already been used in one operation a while back," he said.

The original FTIS just provided datalinked images that could send video back as multiple snap shots. "The upgrade will allow a voice recording capability as well," Patrick said.

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