Some Latin American states want to renew their fleet of helicopter platforms. However, the requirements of these countries for helicopters are quite different from those of NATO states. The American manufacturer Lockheed Martin has been active in this region for decades. ESD had the opportunity to talk to John Lopes, International Director for Latin America and the Caribbean at Lockheed Martin, and Adam Schierholz, Vice President & Regional Sales Executive – Latin America at Sikorsky Aircraft
ESD: For decades, Sikorsky has been a trusted provider of helicopter solutions for Latin American security forces and civilian customers. What are the main programmes in which the company is currently involved? What is on the horizon? With what upgrades or new solutions is Sikorsky planning to meet new requirements?
Schierholz: Sikorsky remains fully engaged with all current operators of Sikorsky helicopters in the Latin America region. This ranges from the largest military operators – each of the three forces in Colombia (Army, Air Force and National Police) with 96 BLACK HAWK aircraft; each of the three forces in Mexico (SEDENA, SEMAR, and Federal Police, now the Gendarmerie Division) with 47 BLACK HAWK aircraft; and each of the three forces in Brazil (Air Force, Army and Navy) with 20 BLACK HAWK and 6 SEAHAWK helicopters. We also support our vast commercial fleet of S-76 and S-92 helicopters in Brazil, Trinidad, Mexico, Guyana, Argentina, and now Peru.
We support the region’s BLACK HAWK fleets from our primary military support hub in Colombia. Sikorsky-Colombia has offices in Bogotá, operates an MRO depot in Tolemaida, and a UH-60 flight simulator in Melgar. We support the region’s commercial fleets from our hub near Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where we operate a parts warehouse and blade repair facility.
One of our newest programmes is the delivery of six S-70i aircraft to the Chilean Air Force in late 2018. Those aircraft are performing exceptionally well for their intended roles of search and rescue, humanitarian relief and general utility operations. Also, a M28 fixed wing STOL airplane produced at our PZL Mielec facility in Poland is operational with the Ecuador Army.
With regards to upgrades and new solutions on the horizon, we are very excited about two recent mission systems — an advanced armed system and an improved aerial firefighting capability for the S-70i BLACK HAWK.
For armed missions with the third generation S-70i and UH-60M BLACK HAWK helicopters, pilots can place machine gun rounds, rockets and missiles onto targets effectively and accurately. That’s because the weapon system is fully integrated with the cockpit avionics, which computes the complex ballistics. The Armed BLACK HAWK, as we call it, is well-suited for militaries that may not want to acquire, field or maintain a dedicated attack helicopter platform. The advantage of the Armed BLACK HAWK is that you don’t have to choose between missions – you can perform both utility and armed functions with the same aircraft. This saves sustainment cost by minimising parts, training and ground support equipment. The recent announcement by the Brazilian Army that they would combine their future Armed Helicopter Programme with their Manoeuvre (Utility) Helicopter Programme shows they’re thinking the same way.
Our S-70i FIREHAWK helicopter is born a BLACK HAWK. We have an approved third party to attach a 3,785-litre external water tank to the belly of the aircraft. The Los Angeles County Fire Department has pioneered fire attack for almost 20 years with three S-70 FIREHAWK aircraft, which assist firefighters on the ground to extinguish flames quickly and safely. This has proven to be the most effective aerial method to attack the growing problem of wildland fires. The FIREHAWK helicopter’s external water tank can be retrofitted to existing BLACK HAWK aircraft, which retains its utility functions. We see a need for the FIREHAWK capability in Latin America, especially given the region’s intense and varied climates, many of which are conducive to wildfires.
On the new technology side, Sikorsky is maturing a next-generation X2 helicopter design that uses a co-axial rotor configuration and a pusher propeller to generate flight speed up to 220 knots and greater manoeuvrability compared to a conventional single main rotor helicopter.
We are testing two aircraft prototypes – the single engine S-97 RAIDER helicopter weighing just over 11,000 pounds, and the twin-engine SB-1 DEFIANT helicopter in the 30,000-pound class. Developed initially for the US military, the X2 design represents the long-term future of rotary wing flight.
ESD: Sikorsky has a strong footprint in Colombia: for example, it runs a BLACK HAWK maintenance and training centre. Who benefits from this facility, beyond the Colombian Armed Forces?
Schierholz: We are very proud of what we have developed through the years in Colombia in cooperation with the Colombian Government. Sikorsky-Colombia is really a testament to a well prepared, strategically planned industrial cooperation programme. Originally, Sikorsky-Colombia was established in 2012 as a three-person team installing and running the only six-axis, full-motion BLACK HAWK simulator outside the US. This was part of an offset requirement tied to a contract win a few years earlier. This became even more important as the need increased to train pilots cost-effectively for the BLACK HAWK aircraft acquired by the Colombian armed forces and police. Sikorsky saw a win-win opportunity to establish a depot maintenance centre with our Colombian customers. What started as a three-person team is now 36 people doing training and depot work, as well as much of the associated engineering, quality, supply chain, and logistics. Of those 36 employees, 34 are Colombian – which is a win-win for both Sikorsky and the Colombian MoD, and the Colombian economy in general. All Sikorsky customers in the region benefit from this activity, since we have transferred mechanics and engineers from Sikorsky-Colombia for work in Chile, Brazil, and Mexico. What is more, customers from Chile, Mexico and Brazil have been trained in our flight simulator as well. It has been very gratifying to see the vision for Colombia come to fruition as the hub of our regional BLACK HAWK support.
ESD: A prerequisite for a strong partnership in defence procurement is usually (and not only in Latin America) that the foreign company involves regional partners and offers, for example, MRO services or local content. In some cases, it may even include local production as part of the business. What is Lockheed Martin’s strategy to meet the customer’s desire for work-sharing and/or technology transfer?
Lopes: There are two primary things that distinguish us from our competition: First, we truly seek to define programmes with the customer that will provide long-term benefits to the customer and the country itself. What we have done in Colombia is a testament to that. Secondly, we do what we commit to do, plain and simple. Our customers have told us they really value that quality. We have a sterling reputation in the region and around the world for keeping our commitments to involve the local workforce or local industry. We are considered a trusted global partner, and we believe that to our core.
ESD: The military’s role in Latin American countries is very different from the role commonly found in the northern hemisphere – in NATO. It is less focused on defence against a foreign enemy and more on civil security tasks such as fighting organised crime, border management and disaster relief. What does this mean for the technological solutions that the armed forces are looking for and for a company like Lockheed Martin that provides these solutions?
Lopes: You are correct in that observation, and this strengthens the argument for robust, multi-use platforms like the BLACK HAWK or C-130 HERCULES. Both are mainstays of conventional forces’ air mobility and combat power around the world, and both have been involved in life-saving missions like the C-130s of multiple nations that deployed to Peru to assist in the relocation efforts of Peruvians trapped by the flood waters of El Niño. The ability of the C-130 to land on short, non-conventional landing areas with 64,000 lbs. of cargo or 92 passengers provides their operators with a tremendous capability where and when it is needed. A smaller, fixed wing aircraft of ours – the M28 – is similarly capable of operating from the world’s most inaccessible airstrips, grass or gravel runways. Brazilian BLACK HAWK helicopters rescued three civilians following a tireless, 36-hour search off the cost of Cabo Frio. They were recognised in 2017 with the American Helicopter Society International’s prestigious Kossler prize. Rear Adm. Montenegro, commander of Brazil’s Naval Air Force, said: “This rescue is proof of the crew training excellency and the aircraft’s efficiency. We thank Sikorsky for the partnership in maintaining and operating this capable helicopter.”
ESD: Some South American countries, particularly Chile, Brazil and Argentina, have very long coastlines and commercial offshore activities that need to be protected. What does Lockheed Martin offer in this area?
Lopes: Lockheed Martin has a variety of air, sea, land platforms and command and control systems that provide world class capabilities and integrate multiple legacy and third party systems and sensors. These build a picture of knowledge and actions that assure your assets are protected. In terms of at-sea operations, Lockheed Martin Canada was selected in 2017 to be the combat systems integrator for the Chilean Navy’s three Type 23 frigates, leveraging its Canadian-developed combat management system, CMS 330. This selection builds on the longstanding relationship between Chile and Canada and the countries’ two navies, as well as Lockheed Martin’s expertise in naval systems integration and support for interoperability between allied countries. In the air, Brazil operates S-70B SEAHAWK helicopters for anti-submarine warfare and anti-surface warfare. The US Navy’s SEAHAWK aircraft is the MH-60R, now also operated by Australia, Saudi Arabia and Denmark. This advanced maritime helicopter can operate from frigates, destroyers, cruisers and aircraft carriers. More than 300 SEAHAWK helicopters of all variants are currently in use around the world today. For long-range search and rescue and surveillance missions with BLACK HAWK aircraft, militaries can add easily wings or pylons that carry external fuel tanks.
ESD: Chile is one of the 25 user nations of the F-16. Is this aircraft an option for other Latin American air forces as well? What are the new capabilities offered by the latest Block 70/72 configuration?
Lopes: The F-16V Block 70/72 is the most capable 4th Generation fighter jet in production and has an unmatched record for combat performance throughout the world. Because we have continually upgraded the platform, we have seen a resurgence in interest for this aircraft’s production, with new orders from Europe, Asia and Africa. We are confident we will continue to provide this capability to our partner nations for years to come.
ESD: We already talked about your strong footprint in Colombia. The Lockheed Martin subsidiary, DERCO, is another established player in the region. What are its core activities in Latin America?
Lopes: For more than 35 years, Derco has provided fleet management solutions, spares distribution, technical solutions logistics and technical support for fixed-wing aircraft. Now part of Lockheed Martin, Derco supports global military efforts in 65 countries and is an important part of our C-130 fleet support, among other aircraft in the region.
ESD: In ten years’ time, when you look back on the 2020s, what will be Lockheed Martin’s summary of this decade with respect to Latin America?
Lopes: We want Lockheed Martin to be seen as a valued technical partner to the nations and industries of Latin America, with unique security and civil support solutions tailored to the region. And we aim to provide missions solutions that equip Latin American militaries with the capacity to defend their national sovereignty as required.
Schierholz: Our statement “Your mission is ours” is very much part of this ethic, emphasising as it does our innovative spirit and employee commitment to mission success.
The interview was conducted by PB.