Japan’s New Seahawk Variant Takes to the Air

 - May 14, 2021, 6:22 AM
The XSH-60L prototype undertakes its first hover test on May 12. (Photo: Mitsubishi Heavy Industries)

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries conducted the first flight of the XSH-60L military helicopter on May 12, following its rollout on 1 October last year. The prototype for the SH-60L performed a 30-minute hover test from the company’s Komaki-Minami facility at Nagoya Airport, where the license-built version of the Sikorsky SH-60 Seahawk is made.

The helicopter in question, now serialed 8501, is a regular Mitsubishi testbed that has previously seen service as the prototype for the unbuilt USH-60K search and rescue platform, and the SH-60K multi-role maritime helicopter. Following initial trials the XSH-60L will be handed over to the defense ministry’s Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Agency (ATLA) that oversees military procurement and research.

Developed under a $63 million contract awarded by ATLA in November 2015, the SH-60L is the third generation of shipborne anti-submarine/anti-surface warfare (ASW) helicopter for the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF). External differences from the current SH-60K appear to be few, with the main upgrades being in the systems.

While few details of the improvements introduced by the new version have been disclosed, the defense ministry earlier said that the helicopter has a new engine transmission to improve flight performance, a new high-speed datalink, and new ASW systems such as a low-frequency dipping sonar and improved acoustic processing. The variant is capable of conducting co-ordinated ASW operations with other rotorcraft.

Japan selected the Sikorsky Seahawk to replace the Mitsubishi-built Sikorsky HSS-2 Sea King as its shipborne ASW helicopter in the 1980s. A version of the SH-60B was chosen, outfitted with a Japanese mission system. The first of two XSH-60J prototypes flew in August 1987, and production by Mitsubishi of what was designated SH-60J reached 102 examples, the first entering service in 1991.

A second generation was introduced in the 2000s in the form of the SH-60K, with more modern systems, an enlarged cabin and new main rotor blades. To date over 70 have been built and the type continues in production, although it is expected that the SH-60L will supersede it on the Komaki assembly line, with first deliveries expected in 2022. Mitsubishi has also built the UH-60J rescue aircraft and UH-60JA utility transport under license, the latter being a Japan-specific versions of the UH-60L Black Hawk.