Seasprite fleet set to grow
The New Zealand Government has approved the purchase of an upgraded and increased Seasprite helicopter fleet for the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF), taking up aircraft originally destined for Australia.
Ten airframes, comprising eight complete Seasprites and two spare airframes, will be purchased from Kaman Aerospace under a $242m project that also includes a full motion training simulator, Penguin air-to-surface anti-ship missile (the current Seasprites can carry a Maverick, a general-purpose air-to-surface missile) and additional components.
The NZDF currently has five SH-2G Seasprites that have been in service since the late 1990s and are due for replacement. The package will provide the RNZ Navy with an upgraded variant, the Seasprite SH-2G(I) and increase the fleet from five to eight helicopters.
The government has defended the decision to increase the number of Seasprites, stating the current fleet of five helicopters is too small and that only two aircraft are regularly available for use aboard the navy’s ships, with one being used for training and two in maintenance at any one time.
The new Seasprites come with modernised sensors, weapons and flight control systems and will be a major boost to the country’s maritime surveillance and search capability. They were originally built for the Australian Defence Force as the SH-2G(A) as part of a $A1bn ($1.205bn) order.
Unlike the current New Zealand Seasprite fleet, which was new at the time of purchase, Australia chose to refurbish former US Navy airframes. In 2009 the Australian government elected to cancel the contract and not to introduce them into service, following questions about their suitability to meet Australia’s requirements.
An NZDF spokesman says, “The New Zealand Defence Force and Ministry of Defence officials are acutely aware that the Australian Government decided not to fully introduce these aircraft into service after concerns about a range of technical issues. As a consequence the New Zealand Ministry of Defence has invested considerable resources into examining all aspects of this project over the last two years.”
New Zealand will operate its SH-2Is with three crew, rather than the two of the SH-2G(A), and changes have been made to the troublesome flight control system. According to Kaman, all other technical issues have been resolved and the manufacturer has continued to further develop the helicopter after Australia cancelled the contract.
The machines are currently in storage in Connecticut and will need to be returned to flying condition and undergo some minor modifications to suit New Zealand’s requirements. The NZDF will undertake the usual airworthiness and certification process in preparation for operational flying.
The first three examples are due in New Zealand late next year, and all eight are expected to be in service during 2016. The purchase price includes $US120m ($148m) for the eight helicopters going into service and the two further airframes. The additional project costs are for missiles, the flight simulator, ship deck lock modification, additional components, testing and introduction into service activities.
- Report and photographs by Peter Clark
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