Unitech Composites, a subsidiary of Unitech Aerospace, has been awarded a contract to provide its Lightweight Armament Support Structure (LASS) weapon pylons for fitment onto several of the Sikorsky UH-60A Black Hawk multirole helicopters the United States is supplying to the Afghan government, the company announced on 16 October.
The initial contract is for three LASS shipsets, with the first scheduled to be delivered in the fourth quarter of 2018, the company said, adding that published programme requirements call for 58 of these weaponised Black Hawks.
The pylons will be installed on UH-60A Black Hawks with fixed-forward-firing weapons, and are set to be operated by the Afghan Air Force (AAF) and the special operations-dedicated Special Mission Wing (SMW). The US Army's Engineering Directorate (AED) is expected to issue an airworthiness release (AWR) prior to the Black Hawks being deployed in Afghanistan in late 2019.
The announcement comes as the AAF is transitioning from the Russian-built Mil Mi-17 'Hip' helicopter to the UH-60A Black Hawk.
The AAF currently has about 47 Mi-17s in its inventory, while its SMW operates an additional 33. So far the AAF has received at least 16 of a total of 159 Black Hawks set to be handed over by the United States by 2023.
According to the US Department of Defense, the transition is being driven by a requirement for additional rotary-wing lift capabilities and airborne firepower as well as by a Congressional directive to switch to US-made rotary-wing aircraft rather than spending more from the Afghanistan Security Forces Fund (ASFF) on buying helicopters from Russia.
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