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UH-60 Black Hawk

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Sikorsky designed medium-lift multi-role utility helicopter.

The only front-line helicopter in US Army service not to be named after an Ind...sorry, Native American tribe, which is always a good bit of trivia. Has achieved good export success in its various guises. Indeed, one can find this example of Cold War design in service with the Peoples' Republic of China. Westland tried building one, the WS-70, but lost out in competition. The helicopter is allergic to RPGs.

First production UH-60A built in 1978, designed to replace the Huey. Standard load of 11 troops, though 20 could be squeezed in if they carried smaller soldiers. S-70 is the civilian designation, frequently used for export in military cases for political expediency. "Yes, we are selling a civilian chopper. Please ignore the dipping sonar, radar, and weapons hardpoints"

In terms of weapons, they made sure to leave room for door gunners between the pilots and the main compartment. Much advertising was made of the External Stores Support System pylons, with gun pods, Hellfire missiles (designated by Apaches) and whatnot, but they are rarely fitted, and usually only with fuel tanks.

Great. Let's get some!

Don't be stupid. That's waaay too easy. Sikorsky have offered sales packages three times, which (had they been taken up) would have seriously impacted (eventually if not reasonably instantly) on the UK's battlefield lift capability and complemented the meagre Chinook & Merlin force beautifully - bearing in mind that we're (supposedly) in Afghanistan for 'the long haul'. Blackhawks were to be built by Westland back in 1990 as the WS-60 but turned down then.

In the latest turn down, Sikorsky offered to sell sixty of the latest UH60Ms at a cost of £8 million per kite. Instead, the pen pushers decided it would work out far cheaper to refurbish our totally fucked fleet of Pumas (some of which are now approaching forty years in service) at a cost of £11 million per airframe. Now, I was never that brilliant at maths at school but shurley shome mishtake?

The spams have been trying to foist their rather spiffing product on the wary Brits since 2007 when they offered sixty choppers complete with training and engineering packages for both line swine and growbags. Whitehall said no thanks. Another twenty choppers were offered again in 2008 and again the offer was declined. Why?

But why?

Well, it's quite simple really. They'd rather piss billions away on sixty odd Future Lynx aircraft that are nowhere near coming in to service and are already over budget by a significant margin. The 'Future Lynx' is basically a 'Retro Lynx' with some fancy kit thrown in it. It's still the same size and will still have pretty much the same overall performance, will still not like hot & high and will still have just enough room for the growbag, his girlfriend and a couple of Horror Bags - instead of fourteen heavily armed infantrymen.

So what's next?

So to recap. The Blackhawk has been turned down:

  • In favour of refurbishing an older and less capable type and at greater expense
  • In favour of a significantly inferior machine that might not even enter service due to defence cuts
  • Most of all, in favour of a British/Non-US chopper for financial/political reasons

Of course, suggesting we buy 'off the peg' and solve all our problems in a one-er is rather simplistic. There's the training of crews and engineers and the establishment of a servicing and supply regime to be taken in to account. That all takes time, but it is do-able - especially if it will be a money saver in the long term. We do already operate several US types - even if we do insist on installing our own avionics at extra cost.

Illogical procurement decisions appear to be a uniquely British trait. No other country fucks about to anything approaching the same extent as to what we do. Other countries go to an airshow, shop around, make a choice, sign some paperwork and a load of helicopters turn up in crates a few weeks later. A bit of spanner work here and there and they're on the flight line and turning & burning in a trice. Job done. Why have we got to complicate things?

Now, you just know what's going to happen here don't you? Future Lynx will be binned (along with Future Carrier and gawd knows what else) and sometime within the next fifteen years - when were down to one serviceable Chinook (probably the same one that was in the Falklands War) that's totally mullah'd - some bright spark at the Ministry will suggest we obtain some Blackhawks. Just you watch.

See also British Military Procurement Mysteries.

Hawk Names: (Just to show how hard it is to keep track of things...)

Black Hawk: Standard military transport. A, L, P versions. Q is modified for medevac.

Presidential Hawk: VH-60N. Marine One, the President's ride.

Pot Hawk: UH-60As used by the Customs Service. Curiously, for a federal agency, they are painted black. Hmm.

Desert Hawk: Export model, designed to work better in the desert.

Quick Fix: EH-60 electronic warfare chopper.

Night Hawk: HH-60D. Built one. Decided the electronics were too expensive, so ditched the electronics. Chopper without electronics proved useless. Cancelled.

Rescue Hawk: HH-60A, Air Force rescue chopper. Goes to pick up shot-down pilots. Also the name of a Navy SAR variant.

Credible Hawk: (Really). Sort of special-ops, rescue mongrel, used by the USAF

Pave Hawk: MH-60G: Special Operations chopper. Also used for deep rescue. Has lots of expensive gadgetry. The inflight refuelling boom is a general giveaway for this one.

Velcro Hawk: Semi-official recognition given to modifications of MH-60s by unit-level attaching of gadgets more by ingenuity than design.

Sea Hawk: Navy chopper. Usually painted grey, not green, and has the tailwheel closer to the main gear so that it fits on frigate helo pads.

Ocean Hawk: Another Navy version. Is designed more for carrier ops than to work from tin cans.

Thunderhawk: Taiwanese Ocean Hawk.

Jayhawk: HH-60J: Coast Guard SAR bird.

Shite Hawk: Chav Scum (also Senior Service term for any kind of bird especially seagull)