ABU DHABI — Sikorsky is close to beginning upgrades to the UAE's helicopters that would give them the "most advanced armed Black Hawks ever produced," a company vice president told Defense News.

According to Robert Kokorda, vice president of sales, said (CQ) the UAE-funded development program of the kits to weaponize UH-60M Black Hawk hack helicopters is in its at the final development stages.

"It is a weaponised aircraft will be one of the most advanced armed Blackhawks ever produced," Kokorda said.

"We are finishing the development of the aircraft and we are just at the stages of beginning the production".

The certification of the UAE-mandated weapons kit will be completed in the near future, he added, once the test-firing program is finalized.

Kokorda was not able able to provide more details on the completion dates of the test-firing program.

The UAE is estimated to have almost 70 Black Hawks with Sikorsky investing in the Advanced Military Mainteinence Repair and Overhaul Company (AMMROC) joint venture with Lockheed Martin and UAE state-owned Emirates Defence Industries Co.mpany (EDIC).

In February 2011, the UAE announced a $270.5 million upgrade order from Sikorsky for 23 UH-60Ms with Battlehawk kits.

The UAE was the launch customer for the Battlehawk kits, which include guided weapons, optical and laser-guided anti-armor missiles, Spike, and Hellfire, and emerging laser-guided rockets.

Abu Dhabi has already upgraded some of its Black Hawks for the "close-air support role with gun turrets and missile mounts as well, said"The UAE's original order for Black Hawks must have been around 40 with another 20 later ordered," said Douglas Barrie (CQ), senior fellow for military aerospace at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, told Defense News over the telephone from London.

"Some of those, the [UH-60]M model were upgraded and modified for the close-air support role with gun turrets and missile mounts as well," Barrie said.

"This is somehow a continuation of the path the UAE was going down in this area of interest."

The requirements for the weapons systems kit over the years, however, has changed, Kokorda told Defense Defnese News.

"The changing requirements over the years and the evolving security needs has led us to adapt this project that we envisioned together years ago to meet all the current needs of the UAE," Kokorda said.

"We have been underway now for a couple of years and it's its going along well where we are working to finalize the different configurations that the UAE want on the aircraft and are in the testing phase," Kokorda added..

The Battlehawk, would provide the UAE forces with a combat support capability as well as a personnel lift capability to for combat personnel, much like the Russian Mi-24 Hinds, Barrie said.

"[The kit] would make it a weaponized utility helicopter, which goes some of the way of being an attack helicopter, but not all the way," he said.

"The closest in original content to it would be the Mi-24 Hind helicopter because that was combat support helicopter and that could carry troops and pack a fair punch as well."

The development program has been completely funded by the UAE, but is being marketed to other customers.

"Right now [this product] is for them and until we have finished creating the product for them, we are actively marketing it, telling everybody that we are going to have this weapons kit available, but we are not necessarily developing other things beyond what the UAE is looking to put in," Kokorda said.

Sikorsky will also supply some to the development information to the UAE for its their use, he added.

"We understand that before we embark on a project like that together, what the ITAR [International Traffic in Arms Regulations] framework allows us to do and so both sides have to agree that that's acceptable," he said. "We are now in a mode where we are developing products together and bringing that to the larger market." he said.

He stated that the joint development of this program, which will bring the most advanced weaponized Black Hawk to the market, is an important aspect for Sikorsky.

"One way to make sure that both sides get something out of this within the framework of the ITAR is that there is investment coming from the UAE to the United States."

"So it's not just Sikorsky investing in AMMROC, this is the UAE investing in development in the United States and that weapons kit intact is fueling engineers in the United States to do work."

Email: amustafa@defensenews.com

Awad Mustafa was a Middle East and Africa correspondent for Defense News.

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