JMSDF's first XSH-60L prototype takes flight

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) has flown the first prototype of the XSH-60L – a further development by the Japanese firm of the Sikorsky SH-60 Seahawk anti-submarine/anti-surface warfare helicopter.

The prototype – serial 8501 – was rolled out on October 1, 2020, and had completed its ground test campaign on May 11, this year. An initial hover test flight was made by the helicopter on May 12 at MHI’s facility in Nagoya, which is located in Japan’s Aichi Prefecture, and lasted for approximately 30 minutes.

XSH-60L prototype first flight [MHI]
The XSH-60L prototype during its first flight on May 12, 2021. MHI

The new variant is being developed by MHI at the Komaki Minami plant of Nagoya Aerospace Systems Manufacturing Co Ltd under a contract with the Japanese Ministry of Defense’s Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Agency (ALTA), which was awarded in November 2015. The new model is based on the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force’s (JMSDF’s) SH-60K, which is in itself an improved version of the SH-60J.

The SH-60K incorporates further upgrades to improve the capabilities of the onboard systems and provide enhanced flight performance. Improvements include a new multi-static, low-frequency dipping sonar system; an adaptive control millimetric wave ultra-high-speed data link; better acoustic processing and an upgraded transmission. After further company flight tests, this XSH-60L will be delivered – along with a second prototype – to the ALTA later this year for further evaluation.

This prototype is by no means a new airframe, as it has been used for many years as a development and test helicopter. Initially manufactured as a UH-60J, the aircraft was converted into the XSH-60K prototype and given the serial number 8401 before its delivery. It was later modified to SH-60K production standard, before being converted into a USH-60K configuration for the development of the replacement for the JMSDF’s UH-60J search and rescue helicopter fleet. Following the cancellation of the USH-60K programme, the platform became an SH-60L development airframe.

The SH-60L is expected to start entering JMSDF service in 2022, although interim deliveries of its predecessor – the SH-60K – will continue. To date, it is believed that 71 SH-60Ks have joined the JMSDF’s ranks, with planned production expected to total 75 aircraft.