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The US Air Force has awarded a $1.28bn contract to Sikorsky Aircraft to develop and supply four new CRH-60 combat search-and-rescue helicopters.

The company, a subsidiary of United Technologies, will develop the helicopter on the UH-60M Black Hawk model.

The new helicopter will replace a previous Sikorsky product HH-60G Pave Hawk as the air force’s combat rescue helicopter.

The initial engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) contract requires Sikorsky to develop and integrate the rescue mission systems, and deliver four combat rescue helicopters and seven aircrew and maintainer training systems.

The air force is planning to procure 112 aircraft under the programme that has a potential value of approximately $7.9bn.

US Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James said: "Over the last ten years, the Air Force has discussed upgrading the platform that performs this sacred mission for all Department of Defense personnel who go into harm’s way.

"This mission is part of the military ethos, and the Air Force is committed to providing it."

"The air force is planning to procure 112 aircraft under the programme that has a potential value of approximately $7.9bn."

Sikorsky offered the UH-60M derivative to the US Air Force when the latter decided in 2010 to retire the Pave Hawk helicopters.

The CRH-60 features better internal fuel capability than the HH-60G helicopter, thereby giving it the required range and increasing its internal cabin space, Sikorsky said.

The company is retaining UH-60M’s T700-GE-701D engines, composite wide-chord main rotor blades, and fatigue- and corrosion-resistant machined aero-structures in the new helicopter.

Lockheed Martin will provide the sub-systems for CRH-60.

Lockheed Martin Mission Systems and Training business executive vice-president Dale Bennett said: "We are proud to expand our long-standing relationship with the U.S. Air Force and Sikorsky, providing a new aircraft system capable of performing the vital personnel recovery missions, including combat rescue and casualty evacuation."

Image: The CRH-60 is a derivative of Sikorsky’s UH-60M. Photo courtesy of Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation.

Defence Technology