The Lithuanian Ministry of Defence will later this week, contract with Lockheed Martin company, Sikorsky Helicopters. The contract will see the provision of four UH-60M 2006 vintage variants of the 1975 designed UH-60 ‘Black-Hawk’. The contract’s specifications will also see Sikorsky supply after-market services in the form of repairs, training, logistical support services and miscellaneous assistance, forming a combined sales package. The helicopters themselves are expected to arrive in late 2024, taken to mean second half of Q3 – Q4 i.e. September – December. The after-market support part of the package will be delivered at an unspecified time, but likely at a mid-point through the delivery schedule and continuing post-delivery. The contract is the solidification of previous trilateral discussions between Sikorsky, the Lithuanian Ministry of Defence and the US government. The original discussions focused around an order of six Black-Hawk platforms. The two remaining platforms not ordered in this week’s contract are apparently still on the table, with the US congress approving a financial contribution of $30 million, to aid Lithuania in acquiring these remaining helicopters. The Sikorsky UH-60M is part of the greater UH-60 series of medium-lift utility helicopters. The UH-60M is frequently fielded by US allies, being a common sight among some of the US’s closest partners, Israel, Taiwan and South Korea.
The UH-60M has a crew of two to four, one co-pilot, one pilot and a two man gunner-loader team. The vehicle has a maximum carry capacity of 1,200kg worth of cargo and eleven personnel. The platform is powered by two 1,890hp General Electric T-700-GE-701C turbo-shaft engines, or a total of 3,780hp. The engines allow the helicopter to achieve a range of 1,380 miles when fitted out for transport only, i.e. without any weaponry. The combat range, the range capacity with a full weapons load out stands at 370 miles. The gunner-loader team is charged with the use of the two door operated guns. The door gunnery positions are configured to accept FN Herstal’s 7.62mm x 51mm NATO round firing M240 GPMG, General Electric’s 7.62mm NATO calibre six barrel rotary mini-gun or General Dynamics’ 12.7mm x 99mm calibre three-barrel GAU-19 rotary HMG. The UH-60M has four hard points, two per stub wing on either side of the helicopter. The wing mounted weaponry can be composed of either General Dynamics’ 70mm Hydra air-to-ground rocket family members, Lockheed Martin’s AGM-114 Hellfire anti-armour missiles or Raytheon’s AIM-92 air-to-air missiles. Hydra 70mm rockets come in configurations of seven or elven rockets per tube, with explosive warhead weights of between 3.9 – 6.4kg dependant on variant. The AGM-114 Hellfire anti-armour missiles come are tipped either radar or laser guidance modules and carry 9kg explosive warheads. The AIM-92 stinger missiles are equipped with heat seeking tips carrying 3kg of high explosives fragmentation warheads.
The purchase of the UH-60M for the Lithuanian Air Force is part of the post-Soviet transformation of the nation, orienting it to NATO and the United States. Lithuania began its aviation transformation immediately after independence with the purchase of Leonardo’s C-27J Spartan medium/heavy lift transport craft. The purchase led to the shredding of the Soviet era Antonov AN-26 1969 vintage medium-heavy lift transport craft. The next step in national aviation reorientation came in 2007 with the contracting to an unspecified firm in Romania for life-extension upgrades to the L-39ZA trainer jet craft. 2007 – 2013 saw life-extension treatment given to the Mi-8 utility helicopters. The acquisition of three Airbus Helicopter Eurocopter AS364 Dauphin utility helicopters in 2013, form the current Lithuanian air force acquisition history. The completion of the UH-60M contract seeks to further the aforementioned desovietization process by replacing the Mi-8 variants currently in service with Lithuania. The secondary motivation behind this acquisition, save from their independence objectives is related to increased tension between Baltic states and the Russian Federation. The maintenance of the Mi-8 variants as the designated utility helicopter, requires a continued relationship with ROSTEC owned companies such as the Kazan Helicopter Plant, United Engine Corporation and the Degtyaryov Plant. ROSTEC, formed by the Russian government in 2007 is primarily in state hands, with the objectives to develop Russia’s high technology sector in the defence and civilian arenas. The reliance on after-market services from ROSTEC companies, runs the risk of maintaining a relationship with Russia at a level which is no longer desired by the Lithuanian government.