Asia Defense

US State Department Approves $800 Million Helicopter Sale to South Korea

The U.S. State Department has approved the sale of 12 MH-60R Seahawk helicopters to the South Korean Navy.

Franz-Stefan Gady
US State Department Approves $800 Million Helicopter Sale to South Korea
Credit: U.S. Navy

The U.S. State Department approved a $800 million sale of 12 Lockheed Martin-Sikorky MH-60R Seahawk Romeo multirole maritime helicopters to the Republic of Korea Navy (ROKN), the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) announced on August 7.

The announcement does not mean that a final deal has been or will be concluded. For example, DSCA issued a similar statement about the possible sale of eight MH-60Rs to South Korea back in 2012. However, the contract ended up being awarded to a European defense firm.

The Foreign Military Sales (FMS) deal is also still subject to congressional approval before final contract negotiations between the United States and the South Korean government can begin. Furthermore, the price tag for the 12 helicopters may change prior to the inking of the final sales contract.

South Korea’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) issued a request for proposals (RFP) for the procurement of up to 12 anti-submarine warfare (ASW) helicopters in May of this year under the ROKN’s Maritime Operational Helicopter program, which foresees the procurement of 20 new ASW helicopters for the service by 2022.

Two defense firms, U.S. aerospace and defense company Lockheed Martin and Anglo-Italian defense contractor Leonardo-Finmeccanica responded to the request. DAPA had issued a previous RFP for 12 helicopters back in 2018 with only Leonardo-Finmeccanica responding, offering its AgustaWestland AW Wildcat 159 shipborne ASW helicopter. Once the official RFP deadline passed, however, the U.S. government offered Lockheed Martin’s MH-60R Seahawk helicopter under a Foreign Military Sales (FMS) deal.

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“A FMS procurement of the MH-60R would expeditiously provide the South Korean Navy with the world’s most advanced anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare rotary-winged aircraft in the world,” Lockheed Martin said in a statement in May. MH-60Rs can carry AGM-114 Hellfires for use against surface and land targets, and MK 54 torpedoes for ASW missions.

The ROKN currently operates eight AW-159 Lynx Wildcat helicopters with the last tranche of four entering service in July 2017. The helicopters are serving aboard the ROKN’s Incheon-class guided-missile frigates. During the selection process in 2012, the AW-159 was found to better meet the operational requirements of the service than the MH-60R. The AW-159 was also found to be cheaper than the MH-60R under a direct commercial sale.

Today’s announcement coincided with U.S. President Donald Trump stating that the two countries had entered negotiations on Seoul paying more for the defense umbrella the United States provides South Korea. “South Korea has agreed to pay substantially more money to the United States in order to defend itself from North Korea,” Trump tweeted earlier today. ”South Korea is a very wealthy nation that now feels an obligation to contribute to the military defense provided by the United States of America.”