Sikorsky SH-60 Seahawk Multi-Mission Maritime Helicopter
The Sikorsky SH-60 Seahawk has proven a capable maritime performer with several of the world’s leading navies.
Updated: 6/23/2017; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com
The Sikorsky SH-60 “Seahawk” is the navalized derivative of the ubiquitous land-based UH-60 “Black Hawk” series transport helicopters. Origins of the UH-60 go as far back as the 1970s to which the helicopter recorded its first flight on November 29th, 1974 and formally entered service with the United States Army in 1979. To date, some 4,000 units have been delivered and serving across multiple military forces around the globe. The UH-60 was then adopted by the United States Navy in a navalized form with a first flight recorded on December 12th, 1979. Formal introduction into service occurred in 1984 with frontline service ongoing as of this writing (2013). The SH-60 remains the primary helicopter of the United States Navy.
While originating from the land-based UH-60, the SH-60 features over-water qualities that are required of maritime aircraft. This includes folding appendages (tail, horizontal stabilizer, collapsing main rotor) for onboard stowage, strengthened understructures for the abuses of shipborne landings and specialized coatings to protect against the corrosive effects of the salty sea air. Prior to the 1970s, the US Navy relied on their trusty Kaman SH-2 Seasprite multi-mission helicopters aboard aircraft carriers and accompanying surface ships. However, Seasprites were introduced in the late 1950s with applicable technology of the time and were soon superseded by more modern developments. As such, the situation forced the US Navy to modernize its rotary-wing fleet which included following the US Army’s lead by selecting Sikorsky Model S-70 helicopter as its primary mount under the designation of SH-60 “Seahawk”. The initial production versions were recognized as “SH-60B” in line with the Sikorsky S-70B model design.
The selection of the S-70 allowed for a high degree of commonality in parts between the US Army UH-60 and the US Navy SH-60 – up to 80% was common across both platforms which improved logistics and repair times and costs. The overall design appearance of the US Navy helicopter remained largely the same with its twin turboshaft layout, four-bladed main rotor and fixed wheeled undercarriage. The two-man cockpit was held well-forward in the design with good visibility (the instrument panel takes up a good deal of height) while the passenger/cargo cabin was set to the rear under the engine installations. If the S-70 design proved anything it was in its multi-mission capabilities which have since endeared the type to other world powers beyond the United States.
Unlike the Army’s UH-60, the Navy’s SH-60 did away with the left side sliding access door for cabin entry/exit (replaced by solid fuselage wall). Additionally, the aircraft mounted uprated turboshaft engines for more power as well as a electrically-collapsing main rotor blade (all blades collapse to the rear) assembly for a more compact footprint aboard ships. The horizontal stabilizers were also designed to fold for this same reason while the vertical tail unit swung over portside just aft of the tailwheel. The tailwheel structure was relocated forward to reduce the surface contact area aboard space-strapped ships and allow the tail to hinge. Optional wingstubs could be added to either side of the fuselage for the carrying of valuable mission equipment and weaponry.
Key to the existence of the SH-60 is support for the LAMPS (Light Airborne Multi-Purpose System) utilized by the US Navy. LAMPS is an advanced avionics package that was developed to counter enemy submarines while also supporting search and rescue (SAR) sorties. The SH-2 Seasprite utilized the original LAMPS Mk I system while the Seahawk was slated to use the more modern LAMPS Mk III series (an Mk II model was eventually abandoned).
The US Navy first contracted for five YSH-60B prototypes outfitted to specifications (including LAMPS III). After a first flight in late 1979, testing continued before production was ordered, resulting in first-batch unit availability to USN elements by 1984. Operational service officially began the following year as SH-60Bs were stationed across all manner of US Navy surface ships. Since their adoption, SH-60Bs have given stellar shipborne service.
The Seahawk is stocked with the APS-124 series search radar system as well as the ALQ-142 ESM. A 25-tube sonobouy launcher is mounted near the left main landing gear structure. The aircraft is generally crewed by three to four primary personnel including two pilots and a missions specialist (up to eleven passengers can fit in the cabin depending on the production model in question). Beyond its sophisticated array of sensory equipment, the Seahawk can be outfitted with 3 x Mark 46/54 series torpedoes as well as AGM-114 Hellfire air-to-surface missiles or AGM-119 Penguin anti-ship missiles to engage enemy vessels. Point defense is provided by an optional general purpose machine gun or minigun to either side of the fuselage as required. An Mk 44 Mod 0 cannon can also be installed and used in the mine clearing role.
The Seahawk is powered by 2 x General Electric T700-GE-401C turboshaft engines delivering 1,890 shaft horsepower each coupled to a four-bladed main rotor and four-bladed tail rotor. The tail rotor is offset to the starboard side of the aircraft and used to stabilize forward flight (countering the torque of the main rotor blades). This arrangement provides a top speed of 170 miles per hour with a range out to 520 miles and service ceiling of 12,000 feet. A rate-of-climb of 1,650 feet per minute is reported. Depending on the production model, the Seahawk is also cleared to haul up to 9,000lbs of cargo under its fuselage (via sling load) as well as 4,000lbs in its cabin.
All told, the Seahawk can be called upon to undertake a variety of critical missions including at-sea resupply, search and rescue of downed pilots and sailors, humanitarian relief, special forces insertion/extraction, MEDEVAC, cargo hauling, submarine/surface warship hunting and mine warfare. The type has also been developed into a series of related, though mission-specific, marks as follows:
The SH-60F “Oceanhawk” is a dedicated aircraft carrier-based anti-submarine warfare platform of which 81 have been produced. The HH-60H “Rescue Hawk”, as its name suggests, is utilized in the search and rescue role at sea, some 42 having been built. The HH-60 “Jayhawk” is an HH-60H-based version developed to specific US Coast Guard standards. The MH-60R “Seahawk” is a a modernized version of the SH-60B complete with the “LAMPS Mk III Block II Upgrade” and support for improved missiles and torpedoes. The MH-60S “Knighthawk” is a cargo-hauling platform developed to replace the aging Boeing CH-46 Sea Knight tandem rotor transports.
The CH-60E was a proposed USMC troop transport that fell to naught. Developmental prototypes of mentioned production marks have included the YSH-60R (becoming the MH-60R) and the YCH-60S (becoming the MH-60S).
The Seahawk has also been slightly modified for foreign purchase to which customers are largely made up of US-friendly nations and include Australia, Brazil, Denmark, Greece, Japan, Spain, Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand and Turkey. Export variants on recognized as S-70B “Seahawk” while their civilian counterparts are the S-70C. The SH-60J is an anti-submarine mount for the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF).
The US Navy currently operates over 40 SH-60-related squadrons (including reserves) as of early 2013 and has procured hundreds of units since 1985 with over 700 helicopters having been delivered by Sikorsky to all parties in that span.