Visiting the Seahawk Weapons School: Insights in the Way Ahead for the Fleet


By Robbin Laird

Living Inside the Beltway, one would clearly miss how to understand how the Romeo helicopter, a variant of the Seahawk helicopter, in expanding the envelope of fleet defense, was itself part of how one might reconsider the way ahead for the fleet.

The Romeo is the successor of the Bravo variant of the Seahawk.

An Australian article published in 2017 at the time of the Avalon Air Show highlighted the transition:

The Navy’s Sikorsky S70-B2 Seahawk – known as the ‘Bravo’ – is winding down operations. Its replacement is the modern, fifth generation MRH-60 Seahawk ‘Romeo’.

Both helicopters are on display at the Avalon – the new Romeo will be flying, while the older Bravo is on static display.

Lieutenant Luke Mein, an instructor, has been inundated with questions about the Bravo while manning the stand at Avalon.

“The Bravo had always been a capable workhorse, but the new Romeo is a quantum leap forward in terms of warfighting capability,” Lieutenant Mein said.

“Navy has placed a heavy focus on a strategic planning cycle to make sure assets were replaced in a timely fashion,” he said.

Petty Officer Aircrew Jason Wikman is also a Bravo instructor who is at Avalon this week assisting at the Navy display.

“She might be an aging helicopter but people are still very interested to know all about her,” Petty Officer Wikman said.

“As an instructor I believe the training involved to the transition from the Bravo to Romeo has delivered a skilled and flexible aviation workforce to the Navy,” he said.

Lieutenant Mein and Petty Officer Wikman are among about a dozen Navy aviators who are still flying the Seahawk Bravo. Both will transition to the new Romeo variant.

Navy has purchased 24 of the Romeos, which are now in-service operating out of 725 and 816 Squadrons at HMAS Albatross in Nowra, New South Wales.

The primary mission of the Romeo helicopter is anti-submarine warfare and anti-surface warfare. Secondary roles include search and rescue, logistics support, personnel transport and medical evacuation.

With a twin turboshaft engine, the Seahawk is based on the US Army’s UH-60 Black Hawk design. It is able to deploy from a range of surface ships.

The Seahawk boasts an impressive pedigree, and has been exported from the United States to serve with various armed forces around the world.

From a platform perspective, the shift from the Bravo to the Romeo is one which brings significant upgrades in terms of sensor and data processing capabilities.

Navy Recognition describes the Romeo systems as follows:

The MH-60R avionics includes dual controls and instead of the complex array of dials and gauges in Bravo and Foxtrot aircraft, 4 fully integrated 8″ x 10″ night vision goggle-compatible and sunlight-readable color multi-function displays, all part of glass cockpit produced by Owego Helo Systems division of Lockheed Martin.

The Lockheed Martin Common Cockpit™ enables MH-60R and MH-60S aircrews to perform diverse missions, including anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare, combat search and rescue, vertical replenishment, and airborne mine countermeasures.

Onboard sensors include: AN/AAR-47 Missile Approach Warning System by ATK, Raytheon AN/AAS-44 electro-optical system that integrates FLIR and laser rangefinder AN/ALE-39 decoy dispenser and AN/ALQ-144 infrared jammer by BAE Systems, AN/ALQ-210 electronic support measures system by Lockheed Martin, AN/APS-147 multi-mode radar/IFF interrogator, which during a mid-life technology insertion project is subsequently replaced by AN/APS-153 Multi-Mode Radar with Automatic Radar Periscope Detection and Discrimination (ARPDD) capability, and both radars were developed by Telephonics, a more advanced AN/AQS-22 advanced airborne low-frequency sonar (ALFS) jointly developed by Raytheon & Thales, AN/ARC-210 voice radio by Rockwell Collins, an advanced airborne fleet data link AN/SRQ-4 Hawklink with radio terminal set AN/ARQ-59 radio terminal, both by L3Harris, and LN-100G dual-embedded global positioning system and inertial navigation system by Northrop Grumman Litton division.

For naval combat missions, the MH_60R can be armed with AGM-114 Hellfire air-to-surface missiles to perform anti-surface warfare missions. It can be also armed with ATK mk50 or mk46 active/passive lightweight torpedoes to conduct anti-submarine warfare. Fort its self-defense, the MH-60R is equipped with pintle-mounted 7.62mm machine gun.

But if one visits the Seahawk Weapons School, Atlantic, with a kill web-oriented P-8 WTI instructor, the aperture opens up considerably with regard to thinking about the integrability context and what the impact of the platform in a broader, “no platform fights alone context, might mean.

During my visit to Jax Navy and Mayport during the week of June 14, 2020, I visited the Helicopter Sea Combat Weapons School Atlantic with my host, Lt.  Lt. Jonathan Gosselin, a P-8 Weapons and Tactics Instructor at the Maritime Patrol Reconnaissance Weapons School.

I had a chance while visiting Mayport to talk with Colin Price, who is the Weapons School Standardization Officer responsible for working to shape and support TTP standardization within the fleet.

He is also a next generation officer so to speak in that he is neither a Cold Warrior nor a land warrior.

He has come to the fleet, when the focus is clearly upon the new strategic environment and dealing with the new world of surface and anti-submarine warfare, and within the extended battlespace in the sea-air domain.

He has been posted to Japan where he worked the Romeo with the new Naval assets which came to Japan, the new generation Hawkeye and the F-35. With regard to the new generation Hawkeye,

Price underscored how important cross learning in the flight line is for tapping into the potential for a new platform and sharing knowledge of how your platform might contribute to the success of the new platform, notably with an integratability focus.

With regard to the F-35, the Marines had brought the F-35 Bravo to Japan, and the Romeo squadron flew down to their base and engaged in cross learning.  As Price put it: “It is important to open communication with the operators of a new platform, to have the kind of cross-learning which can shape more effective concepts of operations, and to get the full combat capability from your platform and the new one.”

With regard to getting better value out of the Romeo, Price pointed out that the AN/ALQ-210 Electronic Support Measures System on the Romeo can contribute significantly to EW combat as well, and the Romeo community has recently increased its focus on improving their capabilities with regard to this mission set.

As the focus shifts to distributed EW in the force, and away from a primary reliance on a specialized EW platform, then learning how to tap into an integrated EW capability distributed within the force is a key task, one to which the Romeo community can contribute to significantly.

To do so, will require shaping the kind of architecture which can more effectively network EW capabilities across the fleet.

But the Romeo can provide a significant contribution here, notably when ships are operating in congested waters or close in transit points where fast jets are of more limited value in the EW role.

The basic function of the Romeo is to provide the “Paul Revere” role for the fleet.

The Romeo’s systems are critical ones for closer in support to the fleet, given the ability of its dipping sonar when combined with the processing power onboard the aircraft to provide rapid warning to the fleet of impeding threats.

As the US Navy works to shape an interactive kill web force, a key challenge will be to more effectively manage what integratable sensor networks can deliver to the fleet and to the force. Lt. Gosselin put the challenge in a particularly clear fashion.

Lt. Price argued that when working a Romeo with a P-8, for example, it is important to be able to share track data for a dynamic targeting solution, and especially so, if that track data would be used by a third party to deliver the targeting solution.

Lt. Gosselin underscored that the challenge can be seen as one of layering and sequencing. “How do we layer most effectively our sensors to the point where we get the best quality of target tracks?”

With regard to sequencing: “How do we sequence most effectively so that we can maintain a consistent track over a long period of time?”

This might be seen as a tactical challenge but it is clearly one which delivers strategic consequences, notably in terms of determining which targets are the ones which the commander wants to prosecute, and which ones he does not.

It is clear that this is a kill web approach being forged at the source.

In this case, it is the P-8 and Romeo communities working to sort through how to work more effectively as an integrated capability for the offensive-defensive enterprise which the Navy needs to deliver in the peer fight and operating in the extended battlespace.

LT Colin Price

Qualified as a Seahawk Weapons and Tactics Instructor (WTI) on May 1st, 2018. Previously he served with Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron 77 (HSM-77) and Carrier Air Wing 5 (CVW-5) with Forward Deployed Naval Forces (FDNF) Japan from 2015-2018, completing 6 deployments embarked on the USS George Washington (CVN-73), USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) and the USS Chancellorsville (CG-62).

He currently serves as the Air Combat Training Continuum Program Manager for the MH-60R Atlantic Wing. To execute these duties Lt. Price standardizes syllabi, update qualification programs, and routinely inspect squadrons and evaluate aircrew across the Wing to ensure tactical excellence and compliance with tactics, techniques and procedures.

He recently served as the Helicopter Advanced Readiness Program (HARP) Officer. As HARP Officer, he led, planned and organized the HARP syllabus of instruction, which is required for squadrons to complete during the basic phase of the pre-deployment workup cycle. It includes an academic, simulator, and flight phase, where MH-60R combat crews learn and demonstrate the latest tactics, techniques, and procedures before deployment.

He also serves as the Night Systems Program Manager for the MH-60R Atlantic Wing. To execute these duties, Lt. Price writes the syllabus for night tactical formation flight, instructs and evaluate pilots and aircrew in the night environment, and inspects squadrons to ensure proper documentation of qualifications.

The featured photo: PACIFIC OCEAN (May 31, 2018)

An MH-60 Romeo, assigned to HSM-49 “Scorpions”, performs deck-landing qualifications on the flight deck of Whidbey Island-class dock landing ship USS Rushmore (LSD 47) during a composite training unit exercise (COMPTUEX). COMPTUEX is the final pre-deployment exercise which certifies the combined Essex Amphibious Ready Group and 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit’s abilities to conduct military operations at sea and project power ashore during their upcoming deployment in summer of 2018.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Seaman Julian Davis/Released)

For a look at distributed EW and approaches to achieve it, see the report on the The Williams Foundation seminar which dealt with this subject and was held on August 23, 2017: