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Arie Egozi

The deployment of surplus U.S SEAHAWK helicopters on the new SAAR 6 corvettes for the Israeli Navy, currently being built in Germany, has been delayed and will cost more than planned. It has become clear that the SEAHAWKs will probably reach Israel in mid-2021. When the helicopters were delivered to U.S Air Force personnel a few months ago, it became clear that their mechanical condition was worse than thought, requiring a larger and more expensive financial investment before they could enter service.

It is now clear that not all of the eight helicopters will enter service, with some supplying replacement parts for the others. Because the SEAHAWK is bigger than the current AS 565  helicopter, the Navy has renovated existing SAAR 5 missile boats and extended them by about 2 metres so the new helicopters can land on them. This change alone, according to sources, had a price tag of ” tens of millions” of Shekels.

New package for new threats

When the Israeli Navy decided to purchase the SAAR 6 corvettes, it also decided to replace the existing AS 565 with a more capable helicopter. Budget limitations, and commonality with the Israeli Air Force’s (IAF) BLACKHAWK fleet, resulted in asking the U.S for the used SEAHAWKs. The deal was signed in 2015, and the US Department of Defence approved the transfer of eight used helicopters, engines, electronic systems and a US$300m maintenance package to Israel from the US defence aid budget, with IAF sensors added to the package to be installed, in order to address evolving threats.

The sensor package will be based on the one installed on the existing AS 565 helicopters operated jointly by the IAF and Israeli Navy, but will feature additional capabilities. “The new requirements need to be answered with more advanced sensors” an IAF source said.

The sensor package designed for the SEAHAWK includes an ELTA maritime radar and other payloads that will enable the helicopter to perform anti-terror and anti-submarine missions with other aerial and maritime platforms. It will also enable close cooperation with the Israel Aerospace Industries maritime version of the HERON-1 UAV while the new sensor package will operate with the U.S made systems installed in the helicopters.

A plan to arm the SEAHAWK helicopters is still in the early evaluation stages, though sources said that equipping it with missiles can answer the operational need to kill an immediate threat. The sources cited the imminent threat to the Israeli natural gas pumping rigs in the Mediterranean, as an example. The IAF has equipped its AH-64D attack helicopters with different variants of the Rafael SPIKE missile.