Lithuanian Ministry of National Defence has taken a decision to start negotiations with the U.S. Government on procurement of six new UH-60M Black Hawk utility helicopters, the Ministry announced on Oct. 18.
The statement added that the Black Hawks will replace the ageing Soviet-made Mi-8 helicopters. The new helicopters are planned to be used for search and rescue operations and for the tasks of the Lithuanian Armed Forces and the NATO enhanced Forward Presence Battalion Battle Group in Lithuania.
“Currently the Lithuanian Armed Forces continues to use for its tasks three operational Soviet-made Mi-8 whose airworthiness deadline is very near, and three AS365 N3+ Dauphin helicopters that are mainly used for search and rescue operations and environmental protection surveillance in the territory of Lithuania. We have to change the remnant Mi-8 Soviet platform to a western technology for military tasks,” Minister of National Defence Raimundas Karoblis says.
He underscored the need for a more modern western helicopter since the operating life of the Mi-8 will soon be over, their maintenance is frequent and expensive, and the dependence to Russia for its spare parts.
A market analysis, that was done according to the criteria formulated by the Lithuanian Armed Forces, has revealed that the UH-60M Black Hawk utility helicopter is most suited for the replacement. The Black Hawk is manufactured by Sikorsky, a division of America’s largest defence contractor Lockheed Martin.
The negotiations with U.S. Government concerning the helicopter procurement, which will be conducted through the U.S. Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program, will begin in the nearest future, while the Letter of Offer and Acceptance is expected to be signed by the end of 2020. It is estimated that the first of the new UH-60M military utility helicopters will be delivered to the Lithuanian Armed Forces by the end of 2024.
According to the Lithuanian Defence Ministry, the U.S. Government is currently exploring options to potentially provide U.S. security assistance funds to the procurement. The value of the purchase is estimated to be approximately EUR 300 million.
“Direct acquisition of the capability from the U.S. government will supply Lithuania not only with a utility helicopter but also with a package of training, spare parts and necessary equipment. There is also a high probability that it will bring us additional financial support through the different U.S. security assistance funds,” R.Karoblis says.
The Lithuanian decision to progress to the western military helicopter platform is supported by the leadership of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard.
Adjutant General of Pennsylvania Maj Gen Anthony J. Carrelli says in a letter to the Minister of National Defence of Lithuania Raimundas Karoblis that the Pennsylvania Army National Guard, bound by 26 years of close partnership with the Lithuanian Armed Forces, is prepared to render expertise, share experience, and contribute to training for crews, pilots and maintainers of the prospective acquisition.
“Our long-standing and intense cooperation with the Pennsylvania Army National Guard and its future assistance will foster a better interoperability with the U.S. forces in exercises and international operations,” Vice Minister of National Defence G. Jeglinskas says.
The United States is Lithuania’s strategic partner and key ally for the security of the Baltic region. The two countries cooperate across a range of areas, including acquisitions. Another similar project underway and being agreed is the procurement of 200 JLTV (Joint Light Tactical Vehicle) armoured all-terrain vehicles from the U.S. Government for the Lithuanian Armed Forces. The United States, in its turn, made extensive investments to Lithuania’s military training areas and other infrastructure, training of Lithuania’s military personnel, and other areas, as part of its security assistance programs in Lithuania.
In order to ensure the sustainability of the cooperation activities and proper funding of long-term projects Lithuania and the U.S. have signed a cooperation plan at the beginning of this year.