BRASILIA, Brazil, Sept. 19 (UPI) -- Latin America's growing problem with organized drug gangs using submersibles to ship narcotics is seen as being behind Brazil's purchase of Seahawk anti-submarine helicopters.
The Sikorsky SH-60/MH-60 Seahawk is a twin turboshaft engine, multi-mission helicopter serving the U.S. Navy and other armed forces in battle zones or tension-ridden areas, including the Middle East and Persian Gulf's Arab states.
Brazil faces no immediate war threat but it does have a growing problem with organized crime. Drug and people smuggling gangs, enriched on huge proceeds from criminal activities, are moving increasingly into sophisticated carriers for narcotics smuggling within Latin America and into North America.
Brazil's economic boom has created a wealthy middle class, as in Argentina, which is seen as a major consumer of what are euphemistically called recreational drugs, including cocaine. Most are drugs whose possession and trade are illegal.
Brazil's concern for protecting its offshore oil and natural gas fields is another key reason behind expenditure on acquiring the Seahawks.
After shopping for a range of Eurocopter's EC725 Cougar for its armed forces, Brazilian military procurement officials decided the navy needed what they see as a more effective combat helicopter to deal with threats at sea, especially from submersibles.
The Seahawk is based on the U.S. Army UH-60 Black Hawk, a member of the Sikorsky S-70 family, but has seen modifications to its airframe to reduce its footprint aboard ships.
The modified helicopter can handle anti-submarine warfare, combat search and rescue and battle zone and medical evacuation.
As Brazil upgrades its military inventory, the Seahawk will likely replace Brazil's SH-3A/B Sea Kings in operations from land-based forces and from the aircraft carrier Sao Paulo, the Defense Industry Daily website said.
Brazil's recent military helicopter purchases indicated a procurement tilt toward the Eurocopter for all three services but that left a gap for a naval or anti-submarine variant.
The Sikorsky S-70B/H-60 Seahawk is widely used and is known to work well with the Brazilian Army's S-70/UH-60L Pave Hawk search and rescue aircraft.
Work on preparing the Seahawks for the Brazilian navy will be performed at Sikorsky in Stratford, Conn., and in Cabo Frio, Brazil.
The numbers expected to join the Brazilian navy inventory aren't clear, nor is the amount being paid mentioned, but the Seahawks will form part of a wider plan to equip the Brazilian navy helicopters with the Kongsberg Penguin anti-ship missiles.
The Sikorsky range hasn't been a static project and Brazil's Seahawks are likely to be equipped with the improvements made for the U.S. Navy, especially in electromechanical parts and drivetrain.