The 24 Lockeed-Martin Sikorsky MH-60R helicopters for the Indian Navy, expected to be contracted next week when U.S. President Donald Trump is in India, will bring into service a weapon that BAE Systems Inc. has pitched to the Indian forces for years — the Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System (APKWS) laser-guided rocket.
In December 2019, the U.S. Navy signed a $2.68 billion deal with BAE Systems for the large-scale supply of additional APKWS rockets. The Indian Navy has asked for 38 rockets, and will presumably consider purchasing more later. The APKWS is currently deployed on the U.S. Navy’s MH-60S and MH-60R helicopters. The Indian Navy has had a chance to view performance of the APKWS during joint exercises with the United States in the last few years.
The APKWS is described by BAE Systems as the U.S. Government’s only program of record for 2.75-inch laser-guided rockets — one that ‘transforms an unguided 2.75-inch (70 millimeter) rocket into a precision-guided rocket that gives rotary- and fixed-wing military aircraft a low-cost surgical strike capability’. BAE Systems has pitched the APKWS system as a munition upgrade to the Indian Air Force’s AH-64E Apache, HAL Rudra and soon to be contracted Light Combat Helicopter, as well as fighter platforms. The APKWS was first showcased in India during the 2015 Aero India show.
Apart from the APKWS, the upcoming $2.6 billion deal for 24 MH-60R for the Indian Navy will also include AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, the Kongsberg Naval Strike Missile (NSM-HL) for the anti-ship role and Raytheon MK54 torpedoes. India’s DRDO is currently developing an short-range anti-ship missile, the NASM-SR, a weapon clearly intended for the MH-60R fleet as well as the much larger Naval Multirole Helicopter (NMRH) program which, if and when it moves forward on proposed lines, is positioned to be a prospective contest between the MH-60R and the Airbus H225M Caracal.
Significantly, the MH-60R deal will be India’s first contract with the United States after it signed the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) in 2018. As a result, the Indian MH-60Rs will be fitted with a variety of encrypted voice, transponder and communications equipment that has been, as a matter of policy, held off aircraft supplied before the COMCASA. This propriety equipment on the Indian Navy MH-60Rs includes AN/ARC-210 RT-1990A(C) radios with COMSEC, AN/ARC-220 High Frequency radios and AN/APX-123 Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) transponders.
In its April 2019 notification to US Congress on the proposed deal, the Pentagon said, ‘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. India will use the enhanced capability as a deterrent to regional threats and to strengthen its homeland defense. India will have no difficulty absorbing these helicopters into its armed forces.’