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Taiwan Is Buying A Lot Of Blackhawks

January 17, 2015
US UH-60 Seahawk

This is the S-70B Seahawk, a navalized carrier-and-flight deck ready version of the UH-60. Taiwan doesn’t possess these but India just ordered 16 in late 2014.

After eight years of negotiations Taiwan is finally getting its next-generation utility helicopters. In December last year, the first four UH-60M Blackhawks for Taiwan’s special forces arrived in Kaohsiung Port. An additional 56 UH-60M’s are being delivered until 2018 as replacements for Taiwan’s UH-1H Hueys. The deal is worth $3.1 billion.

This transaction is just the latter half of a major helicopter deal that has been in the works since 2002 during the administration of President George W. Bush. It originally included a 2002 request for 30 AH-64D Apaches and in 2005 Taiwan wanted “price and availability data” for 60 utility helicopters.

The congressional report Taiwan: Major US Arms Sales Since 1990 by Shirley A. Kan, published on March 3, 2014, offers the most helpful insight on this transaction.

In it, Kan explains that an entire series of US-Taiwan arms deals were under discussion from 2001-2008, but only a few materialized for unspecified reasons. Perhaps so as not to aggravate China, which was enjoying record GDP growth and foreign investment during the period.

Domestic politics in Taiwan also affected the helicopter deal, Kan writes. This led to a massive gap in Taiwan’s military arsenal. Faced with brand new fighter jets, attack helicopters, missiles, and warships from the PLAAF and PLAN, Taiwan’s own deterrence suffered and its army, navy, and air force are now lagging behind the PLA.

At Least They Have New Helicopters

Matters took a turn for the better in 2008 and 2010. By 2012 a comprehensive arms package was endorsed by the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) to provide the Republic of China a “sufficient self-defense capability.”

And Taiwan got what it asked for. A budget of $5.6 billion was set aside for 60 Sikorsky UH-60M Blackhawks and 30 AH-64E’s, with the latter having arrived in Taiwan by late 2013.

Below is the press release by the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) from 2010 announcing the imminent arrival of the UH-60M’s:

The Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the United States has requested a possible sale of 60 UH-60M BLACK HAWK helicopters with 120 T-700-GE-701D engines, 18 spare T-700-GE-701D engines, 69 AN/APR-39A(V)2 Radar Warning Receivers, 69 AN/ALQ- 144A(V)1 Infrared Countermeasure Sets, 69 AN/AAR-57 Common Missile Warning Systems, 69 AN/AVR-2B Laser Detecting Sets, 120 GAU-19/A .50 cal Machine Gun Systems, and 310 AN/AVS-9 Aviator Night Vision Goggles. Also included are .50 cal ammunition, pyrotechnics, cartridges and propellant actuated devices. Also included are other explosives including devices, Po-Sheng Communication/Data Link Systems, ammunition… The estimated cost is $3.1 billion.

It’s interesting to note that this particular batch of Blackhawks are armed with the three-barrel GAU-19/A .50.

US GAU 19A 50-cal minigun

The GAU-19/A is a minigun chambered for .50 caliber rounds. The original Blackhawk’s armament used to be the 7.62mm M60 machine gun, which was replaced by the 5.56mm GAU-17 minigun.

Described by the US military as a multi-mission helicopter, the Blackhawk has performed beyond its basic role as a transport. At one point, Sikorsky partnered with Elbit Systems of Israel to sell a Blackhawk with a conversion kit that transforms it into an attack helicopter designated as the Battlehawk.

In 2011, the US Navy Seal raid on Abbotabad, Pakistan, was carried out using UH-60’s modified with stealth features to avoid detection. Unfortunately, one of these helicopters crashed and its wreckage was collected by the Pakistan’s military. The UH-60’s siblings include civilian, search and rescue, and a maritime versions.

According to Sikorsky, since 1978 a total of 2,300 UH-60 Blackhawks have been built. Its biggest client in recent years is Turkey.