The contract, valued at about $878 million, is expected to be signed by the end of this year, according to the Defense Acquisition Program Administration. The decision is a dramatic win for American firm Lockheed Martin, as the MH-60R had been considered a long shot due to its cost. (Sikorsky is a subsidiary of Lockheed.)
For the second batch of the maritime operational helicopter, or MOH, contract, DAPA intended to sign a direct commercial deal last year with a foreign helicopter maker, with three bidders — Lockheed Martin, Italy’s Leonardo and France’s NHIndustries — showing interest.
Leonardo, which had sold eight AW159 Wildcat helicopters to the South Korean Navy under the MOH Batch I program, was seen a sure winner in that competition, as the two other contenders failed to submit their proposals by deadline.
Ultimately, DAPA was about to go with the AW159 on a sole-source supplier basis, but the U.S. government threw a last-minute curveball by offering pricing for the MH-60R through the Pentagon’s Foreign Military Sales program.
DAPA accepted the offer and issued a second requirement for proposals in May 2019. The U.S. government opened an MH-60R Foreign Military Sales case in August, pegging the value of the 12-strong helicopter deal around $800 million.
In addition to the helicopters, the deal also is known to include weapons, sonobouys, radars and communication equipment, as well as training and support.
A total of 12 Seahawks will be delivered to the South Korean Navy by 2025 in stages. The multimission naval helicopters are expected to be deployed aboard the service’s future surface combatants, namely the KDX-III Batch 2 Aegis destroyers, as well as the FFX Batch III frigates.
The 19.76-meter-long and 5.1-meter-high chopper with a maximum cruising speed of 267 kph can handle multiple missions, including operations of warfare, search and rescue, and medical evacuation.
The U.S. Navy is the main operator of the “Romeo” maritime helicopter, with 289 units in its fleet. South Korea has been added to the list of Romeo operating countries that includes Saudi Arabia, Denmark, Australia, India and Greece.
The South Korean Navy currently operates eight AW159s acquired under a 2012 deal. The helicopters fly missions aboard KDX-series destroyers and Incheon-class guided-missile frigates.
The service plans to commission at least 12 more new frigates fitted with a flight deck and a hangar that can accommodate one Lynx helicopter.
Brian Kim was a South Korea correspondent for Defense News.