The Sikorsky / Lockheed MH-60R (Romeo) is likely to be Australia’s new naval helicopter in a deal worth $1.5bn.

Australian Strategic Policy Institute analyst Andrew Davies said the government could select Romeo as the preferred helicopter over the European NFH-90 (Nato frigate helicopter) by early next year.

“The timing of this decision and the relative state of maturity of the two contenders make the Romeo the more likely winner of the competition, if project risk is the decisive factor,” he said.

The Romeo is a modernised version of the Seahawk and carries the small Hellfire missile, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

The helicopter has advanced proven missions systems and is familiar to Australian aircrew and maintenance crews.

Australia will purchase 24 naval combat helicopters to replace the aging Seahawks and Seasprites, and the helicopters will enter service in 2014.