The Lithuanian Defence Ministry has decided to acquire new US-made UH-60M Black Hawk utility helicopters to replace the soviet-made Mi-8 helicopter fleet.

According to the plan, the ministry is set to begin negotiations with the US Government on the acquisition of six UH-60 Black Hawks.

Lithuania intends to use the new helicopters for search and rescue operations.

The utility helicopters will also be deployed to support the Lithuanian Armed Forces and the Nato enhanced Forward Presence Battalion Battle Group in the country.

Lithuania National Defence Minister Raimundas Karoblis said: “Currently the Lithuanian Armed Forces continues to use for its tasks three operational Soviet-made Mi-8 whose airworthiness deadline is very near, and three AS365 N3+ Dauphin helicopters that are mainly used for search and rescue operations and environmental protection surveillance in the territory of Lithuania.

“We have to change the remnant Mi-8 Soviet platform to a western technology for military tasks.”

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The procurement decision was made in light of the fact that the Mi-8 helicopters are nearing the end of their operational life. Moreover, the constant and high maintenance of the fleet has worked in favour of the move to purchase new helicopters.

The ministry opted for the UH-60M Black Hawk as it was found to meet the criteria set out by the Lithuanian Armed Forces.

It expects to sign the letter of offer and acceptance by the end of next year.

Based on projected timelines, the Lithuanian Armed Forces will receive the first UH-60M by the end of 2024. The estimated value of the deal is €300m.

Karoblis added: “Direct acquisition of the capability from the US Government will supply Lithuania not only with a utility helicopter but also with a package of training, spare parts and necessary equipment.

“There is also a high probability that it will bring us additional financial support through the different US security assistance funds.”

The Sikorsky-built UH-60M helicopter features digital avionics and autopilot to improve situational awareness and reduce pilot workload.

The utility helicopter can support multiple missions, including combat assault, search and rescue, external lift, medevac, VIP transport and firefighting.

Meanwhile, Lithuania is looking to buy 200 joint light tactical vehicles (JLTV) from the US Government.

The project for the procurement of the armoured all-terrain vehicles is under negotiation.