The US navy has purchased two decommissioned Japanese military helicopters and its spare parts for using them to maintain its aging fleet of MH-53E Sea Dragons.
The US plans to harvest the aircraft for parts. It appears that the service has bought the used helicopters and parts at a discount, paying about $67,000, various media reported Thursday. One Sea Dragon is worth about $60 million.
The deal was completed May 13. The acquisition includes two airframes, 12 engines and two sets of tow booms and ramp boxes, components needed to perform the helicopter's mine-sweeping mission. The Pilot first reported on the negotiations to buy used Japanese helicopters last year after obtaining internal emails detailing the proposed deal.
Japan decided to retire its fleet of 11 Sea Dragons last decade as the aircraft approached the end of its planned service life, replacing it with a smaller and more efficient Italian-built helicopter, the MCH-101, meanwhile the US Navy had planned to retire its Sea Dragons.
The US Navy's Sea Dragon, initially set for retirement a decade ago, had been hampered due to lack of replacement parts, a problem that came to a head earlier this year after the service ordered fleet-wide inspections and repairs to fix potentially dangerous fuel lines and wiring bundles.
Some of the parts needed to make repairs to Sea Dragon are neither available, nor made by manufacturers, leaving options either to make the parts, or custom-order them from suppliers. As a result, a majority of the Sea Dragon fleet remained grounded.
However, after an unsuccessful effort to outfit a smaller helicopter with mine-clearing equipment, the US military officials decided that their Sea Dragons would need to continue flying until 2025.
Although the effort to acquire Japan's used helicopters predates the current situation by several years, "certainly these parts are going to help the fleet," Kelly Burdick, a spokeswoman for Naval Air Systems Command said. The Navy did not rule out the possibility of purchasing more of Japan's Sea Dragons, Burdick added.