CANBERRA, Australia, June 17 (UPI) -- Australia's government's has decided to appropriate $3 billion to purchase 24 new Seahawk naval attack helicopters for anti-submarine warfare.
The decision allows the Australian navy to upgrade its anti-submarine warfare capacity, which has been in decline for the last 15 years, the Canberra Times reported Friday.
The new Seahawk MH-60R Romeo naval attack helicopters are intended to replace the Australian navy's aging fleet of replace the 16 existing Seahawk S-70B-2 maritime helicopters, and will be equipped with new advanced digital ''dipping sonar'' capabilities.
Analysts speculate that the government's decision have been prompted by a recent buildup in the number and quality of foreign submarines operating in Australia's territorial waters, which include advanced diesel submarines operated by the Chinese navy.
The new maritime helicopter fleet also intended to provide a ''surface strike'' capability with onboard air-to-surface missiles to attack hostile submarines.
While the U.S. Navy eschewed the deployment of diesel-powered submarines in the 1960s as it went exclusively to nuclear propulsion systems, many nations not as concerned with the endurance capabilities afford by nuclear-powered submarines have retained an interest in diesel-powered submarines, which while submerged, operate on batteries, providing a low acoustic signature.
Dipping sonar was first developed in the late 1960s, where a hovering helicopter lowers microphones into the sea to track submerged submarines, and has been increasing used by the world's blue water navies ever since.
Advances in computing power and the ability to process acoustic signals have increasingly made this method of tracking submerged submarines increasingly popular among nations such as Australia, with limited fiscal resources and vast tracts of regional waters to patrol.
Australian Strategic Policy Institute analyst Andrew Davies said: ''Submarines have got quieter. It (a helicopter) gives a ship the ability to search a large area of water a long way away from it for submarines.
"The Australian navy has gone 15 years without the ability to conduct dipping sonar operations, has had to soldier on with an obsolete anti-submarine warfare torpedo and has no helicopter-carried missiles in naval service.''
Australian Defense Minister Stephen Smith and Australian Defense Materiel Minister Jason Clare lauded the government's acquisition plan, referring to it as ''the lowest risk option."
The new Seahawk MH-60R Romeo naval attack helicopters are a rugged and proven design that has been used by the U.S. Navy, with its 100 Seahawk MH-60R Romeo naval attack helicopters having logged 90,000 hours of flight time to date.