Taiwan May Acquire Seahawk Helos from U.S.

 - June 6, 2018, 5:46 AM
A Taiwanese MD500 in action. (Photo: ROC Navy)

Taiwan has revived a plan to replace its aging fleet of Hughes MD 500/ASW helicopters with Sikorsky MH-60R Seahawks. The Taiwan Ministry of National Defence told the Taipei Times newspaper that the ministry wants to have the new helicopters embarked on new guided-missile frigates that will enter service with the Republic of China (ROC) Navy by 2025.

Taipei first mooted the idea of the acquisition in 2015, then looking at between eight and ten aircraft, worth at least $700 million. The plan was shelved due to "cost considerations" but the new report suggested that the U.S. government is willing to lower the price.

The MD500 helicopters were first embarked on the WW II-era Gearing-class destroyers, modified with a flight deck, nearly 40 years ago. They now operate from the Chi Yang-class warships, which also have a smaller heli-deck than most modern warships. The plan is to replace both the Chi Yang-class and the MD500 together with the introduction of the 15 new guided missile frigates.

Twelve MD500s were procured in 1977, under the project name "Seahawk." They feature raised skids to accommodate two Mk 44 or Mk 46 torpedoes, and were equipped with Bendix RDR-1300 search radars and towed ASQ-81C(V)2 Magnetic Anomaly Detectors (MAD). Three were written off in accidents.

The Navy also operates 18 Sikorsky S-70C(M)s, bought via commercial sales in two batches in 1990 and 1997. These aircraft are now also showing signs of age and dated systems, and the new MH-60 would give the ROC Navy new performance and offensive capabilities.

The Trump administration has warmed relations with Taipei and is looking to sell $1.4 billion worth of arms, ranging from anti-radiation missiles, radars, and torpedoes.