The US State Department has approved the sale of 12 Sikorsky UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters to Tunisia, worth $700 million including equipment, parts, training and logistical support.
The Defence Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) notified Congress of the planned sale on July 23.
The UH-60M Black Hawk is the most advanced model of the UH-60/S-70 series, and features the ability to be armed with rockets and missiles. In fact, Tunisia has requested Battlehawk kits that effectively turn the aircraft into an attack helicopter. The North African nation’s request includes 24 M134 7.62mm machineguns, integration of a Precision Guided Rocket System capability to permit launch of laser-guided variants of 2.75 in rockets, 9 100 2.75 in Hydra Rockets, 100 AGM-114R Hellfire Missiles, 20 M299 Hellfire Missile Pods, 24 M261 Hydra-70 Rocket Pods, 24 GAU-19 .50 cal Machine Guns, and 15 Wescam MX-15Di or Brite Star II Electro-Optical Infrared Laser Designators.
Fitted with this equipment, the UH-60M still has an unobstructed cabin for 11 soldiers.
Tunisia has requested a variety of other equipment for the Black Hawks, including 30 T700-GE-701D Engines (24 installed and 6 spares), 26 Embedded Global Positioning Systems/Inertial Navigation Systems, 6 Aviation Mission Planning Systems, 1 Aviation Ground Power Unit, 30 AN/AVS-9 Night Vision Goggles, 30 MXF-4027 Very High Frequency/Ultra High Frequency radios, 15 AN/APX-117 IFF Transponders, 15 Very High Frequency/Digitally Selective Calling radios, 15 ARN-147 VOR/ILS, 15 AN/ARN-153 Tactical Air Navigation Systems, and 15 AN/ARC-220 radios.
Countermeasures equipment requested by Tunisia includes 15 AAR-57 Common Missile Warning Systems, 15 AN/APR-39A(V)4s Radar Warning Receivers, and 15 AN/AVR-2B(V)1s Laser Warning Systems.
“This proposed sale will contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of a friendly country in North Africa,” the DSCA said. “The proposed sale will improve Tunisia’s capability to deter regional threats and strengthen its homeland defence, as well as support counter-terrorism operations. The sale of these UH-60 helicopters will bolster Tunisia’s ability to provide border patrol, rapid reaction, and field expedient medical evacuation for its air and ground forces in counter-terrorism and border security operations.”
Tunisia’s air force recently ordered two stretched C-130J-30 Super Hercules transport aircraft from Lockheed Martin – the first African order for the type. The first aircraft was delivered in April last year and the second is due for delivery in 2014.
It is assumed that the armed UH-60Ms will be used against militant groups operating in Tunisia such as Ansar al Sharia and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Tunisia is struggling to deal with the rise of conservative Islamist movements and militants since the 2011 revolt that ousted autocrat Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali and opened the way to democracy.
Tunisia’s armed forces have been carrying out a campaign to flush out militants from their remote hideout in the Chaambi mountains on the border with Algeria. Some of the militants are tied to al Qaeda and 14 soldiers were killed earlier this month when dozens of gunmen with rocket-propelled grenades attacked two army checkpoints in the region, Reuters reports.
Tunisia is one of the main sources of Islamist militants travelling from North Africa to fight with radical groups in Iraq and Syria.