The COVID-19 crisis and sudden spurt in Chinese belligerence seems to be pushing the United States and India into cooperating closely against Beijing. In the latest development, the Navies of the two countries are preparing to counter Chinese influence in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).
New Delhi had recently placed an order for 24 Sikorsky MH-60R naval multirole Seahawk helicopters. The acquisition which is worth about 2.12 billion dollars is bound to take several years in the delivery of these naval helicopters which are considered among the most advanced in the world.
However, India wants them urgently and now it has been reported that the US Navy has allowed Sikorsky to take three of its brand new MH-60R Seahawk choppers and start altering them according to India’s needs. While three Seahawk helicopters are going to be delivered to India on an urgent basis, the remaining 21 helicopters will be delivered by 2023 and 2024.
The Indian and American Navies are therefore in a hurry and three anti-submarine Seahawk helicopters will now be delivered early next year. Tom Kane, Naval Helicopter Programs Director has said, “This really was one of the higher priorities the [Indian] navy had, to get these aircraft delivered.”
The Director added, “I requested that the aircraft be made available on an accelerated basis. So I think there is an urgent need.” Talking about India-specific modifications, Kane said that they mostly relate to the communication systems, and added, “They want the ability to talk to their satellites obviously, so there’s an Indian indigenous SATCOM data link. Also, they can talk to their ships so there’s a link to that they’ve asked us to install, and there’s some other modifications like a floatation system, and other things that we’ll have to [change] from the standard US Navy configuration.”
Currently, the Sea King helicopters serve as the mainstay anti-submarine helicopters for the Indian Navy, but the defence force is finding it hard to manage the 48-year old machines which have clearly outlived their potential, which is the reason why the Indian Navy has been insisting upon urgent delivery of these Seahawk helicopters.
The Seahawk helicopters are going to bolster Indian Navy’s submarine-hunting capabilities like never before and last year the US Defence Security Cooperation Agency had said that “the proposed sale will provide India the capability to perform anti-surface and anti-submarine warfare missions along with the ability to perform secondary missions including vertical replenishment, search and rescue and communications relay.”
According to the US Naval Air System Command, the MH 60 R Seahawk missions are anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare, surveillance, communications relay, combat search and rescue, naval gunfire support and logistics support.
The acquisition is that much more crucial in India’s efforts to counter the expanding Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean Region because the Dragon has now started flexing its muscles in the South China Sea and the East China Sea.
India needs to keep a tab on China’s expansionist maritime activities and according to experts Beijing’s misadventures in close vicinity to the Indian Ocean Region can eventually slip into maritime areas where India holds interests.
This is why the United States might have also expedited delivery by giving up its own naval helicopters. India is a strategic ally of Washington, and as tensions rise in South China Sea, the Pentagon wants to boost India’s naval firepower in the strategic Indian Ocean Region in order to nip any Chinese expansionism in its bud.