Black Hawks new milestone in modernisation of defence forces

, National 3 minutes, 7 seconds

BRUNEI-MUARA

THE Sikorsky S-70i Black Hawk helicopters were unveiled at the fourth Brunei Darussalam International Defence Exhibition and Conference (BRIDEX) yesterday, marking another milestone in the modernisation of the Royal Brunei Armed Forces (RBAF).

His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam, Minister of Defence and Supreme Commander of RBAF, witnessed the unveiling of the new aircraft while touring the Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation’s pavilion at the Exhibition Hall 2.

Samir B Mehta, president of Sikorsky Military Systems, told The Brunei Times that the first batch of S-70i Black Hawk helicopters were delivered ahead of schedule, owing to their collaborative working relationship with the Ministry of Defence (MinDef).

“Whenever you have a company like ours and a great customer like MinDef working together, you can do things like accelerate schedule. You can still make sure, however, that you have the highest quality helicopter,” he said.

Uniquely configured for Brunei, the new S-70i model represent the most advanced upgrades that have been made to the aircraft over its history to include state-of-the-art avionics with dual-digit flight control computers among others.

With unmatched manoeuvrability, the Black Hawk is recognised worldwide as the premier utility helicopter for troop transport, cargo, medical evacuation as well as search and rescue operations, according to a press statement.

Four out of 12 helicopters have been delivered and the fifth is expected to be shipped sometime this month, while the remaining aircraft will be transported over the following year. Royal Brunei Air Force (RBAirF) pilots have also been trained to fly the S-70i at the West Palm Beach facility.

“The delivery of the helicopters is not the end of the relationship, but the beginning… It’s also about making sure these helicopters have a high rate of mission availability for the next 20 to 30 years,” said Mehta.

He added that Sikorsky has a significant amount of spare parts available to support the S-70i helicopters as it goes into operational service. They will also provide on-site technical service and logistic representatives to ensure the supply of parts and services remain uninterrupted.

Brigadier General (U) Hj Wardi Hj Abd Latip, RBAirF commander, said the new fleet of aircraft will be fully operational latest by early 2015. The S-70i will replace the current fleet of Bell 212s that have been operation for over 30 years.

Equipped with long-range tanks, the new Black Hawks will facilitate deployment around the region. Although the RBAirF’s four S-70A helicopters share similar capabilities, Brigadier General (U) Hj Wardi explained the previous version will be obsolete with the introduction of the S-70i.

“They will become obsolete soon with these new ones supplementing our operations and deployment in Mindanao. They can carry more fuel, more load. It’s a state-of-the-art aircraft,” he said, noting the S-70i aircraft were battle-proven.

Asked if the new helicopters will feature a black box, the RBAirF Commander indicated they will “eventually get some kind of flight data recorder”.

He commented that a black box “is good to have in military operations”.

Meanwhile, Daniel L Shields, United States Ambassador to Brunei, also weighed in on the procurement of the Black Hawk helicopter, pointing out that it will help strengthen defence relations between the two countries.

“I’m grateful to His Majesty and the Government of Brunei for choosing these wonderful American helicopters. I really hope it can contribute to meeting their national defence objectives as well as humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations,” he said.

Sikorsky and MinDef in 2011 signed a contract for the supply of 12 S-70i Black Hawk helicopters with associated spare parts, training and ground support equipment.

The S-70i is the international variant of the UH-60M helicopter used by the United States Army.

The Brunei Times