Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation and Lockheed Martin have signed an agreement to jointly compete for the US Air Force’s contract to replace the existing fleet of combat search and rescue helicopters.

The two companies will offer an advanced version of UH-60M Black Hawk helicopter for the air force’s HH-60 personnel recovery recapitalisation programme.

The HH-60 Recap programme will replace the 112 existing HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter fleet with the same number of new aircraft which require minimum airframe modification.

Initial operational capability is expected in 2015 with eight aircraft including four trainers and four mission-ready aircraft along with a test aircraft to be delivered to the air force.

The UH-60M features a strengthened airframe, wider rotor blades and more powerful engines compared with previously designed Black Hawk helicopters.