Romeo likely to ne navy's new helicopter

Australia's new naval helicopter is likely to be one which is used extensively by the US Navy - the Sikorsky/Lockheed Martin MH-60R (Romeo), a new study says.

Australian Strategic Policy Institute analyst Andrew Davies said the government could announce a final decision between the Romeo and the European NFH-90 (Nato Frigate Helicopter) early next year.

Dr Davies said since the tender competition was launched in February, events had tended to favour the Romeo, with 76 aircraft in US Navy service flying more than 50,000 hours with a very high level of reliability.

He said NFH-90 had also made progress with the first aircraft delivered to the Dutch and French navies and more than 100 now on order.

"The timing of this decision and the relative state of maturity of the two contenders make the Romeo the more likely winner of the competition, if project risk is the decisive factor," Dr Davies said in a policy analysis released on Tuesday.

"There is no doubt that it is an able machine, but the likely outcome would be less clear if the NFH had more time to build a similar service record and reduce project risk commensurately."

Australia will buy around 24 naval combat helicopters in a deal worth $1.5 billion. They will enter service in 2014, replacing ageing Seahawks and the never-delivered Seasprites.

Both Romeo and NFH-90 have advantages.

The Romeo is a modernised version of Seahawk and familiar to Australian aircrew and maintainers. It features advanced proven missions systems but can only carry the small Hellfire missile.

NFH-90 is essentially a navy version of the MRH-90 of which the Australian army is buying 40. It's bigger and even with the full range of missions systems installed can carry seven passengers in the utility role.

Romeo is regarded as cheaper and the first could be delivered next year. However NFH-90 would be assembled in Queensland, meaning Australian jobs.

Whichever helicopter was chosen, the Defence Department neededto think how it had arrived in a situation where it needed to find a new navy helicopter "as a matter of urgency", Dr Davies said.

"The RAN has now gone 15 years without the ability to conduct dipping sonar operations, has had to soldier on with an obsolete airborne ASW (anti-submarine warfare) torpedo and has no helicopter-carried missiles in naval service," he said.

(Sidney Morning Herald)