The Air Force combat search-and-rescue aircraft modernization program
is being delayed possibly until 2006, pending funding approval for
the purchase of new helicopters and a possible reorganization of
The Air Combat Command—the agency responsible for managing
the CSAR units and aircraft—decided nearly two years ago that
it needed to replace the HH-60G Pave Hawk twin-engine helicopter,
which is approaching the end of its service life. The Pave Hawk
has been the CSAR workhorse for more than two decades.
Initially, the Air Force had planned to select a replacement helicopter
in 2004. But it is more likely that the program will start in 2005
or 2006, said Air Force Maj. David Morgan, who is in charge of the
CSAR modernization program at ACC.
“We currently have funding available starting in fiscal year
2005 for a new aircraft to replace the HH-60,” he told National
Defense. So far, however, a program office has not been created.
“If the program office will start in ‘05, we will put
out a proposal and that will take some time. The competition will
start around 2006.”
Morgan noted that all these are speculative dates. The Air Force
still has not completed its fiscal 2004 spending plan, so things
could change, he said.
Morgan refused to specify a dollar amount for the program. Industry
sources estimated that the Air Force could spend up to $6 billion
on as many as 132 helicopters. But Morgan said the amount budgeted
will depend on “how many aircraft will be replaced and what
type of aircraft will be procured.”
The Air Force completed an Analysis of Alternatives, or AoA, more
than a year ago. It concluded that the best solution would be to
purchase a new medium-lift helicopter, rather than upgrade the existing
platform or go through a service life extension program.
The AoA noted that the most important performance factors in selecting
a CSAR platform are response time, capacity and survivability. (National
Defense, September 2001). The new aircraft would have to be more
survivable, because the Air Force A-10 fixed-wing aircraft, which
traditionally provides rescue-escort support, may not be in service
by the time the new CSAR helos are deployed.
Currently, “we are not evaluating aircraft. That is what
the program office will do in fiscal 2005,” said Morgan. “At
this time, we are drafting the ORD [operational requirements document].”
The HH-60 Pave Hawk, a twin-engine, medium-lift helicopter has
been a reliable platform for 20 years. The Pave Hawk is a modified
version of the Sikorsky-built Black Hawk used by the U.S. Army.
It is designed to conduct day or night operations in hostile environments
and to recover downed aircrews and personnel behind enemy lines.
It also participates in civil search and rescue, emergency aero-medical
evacuation, disaster relief, international aid, counter-drug activities
and NASA support.
Last year, the Air Combat Command estimated that the entire Pave
Hawk fleet will have exceeded its 7,000 flight hour life expectancy
The active force has 64 Pave Hawks, the Air National Guard has
15 and the reserves have 21. The Air Force active-duty CSAR units
operate 36 aircraft at Nellis Air Force Base, in Nevada, and at
Moody Air Force Base, in Georgia, in addition to others overseas,
in Iceland and Japan. The remaining 28 are used for training and
Because there are so few Pave Hawks, said Morgan, it is always
in demand. “We are stretched thin,” he said. “It
puts a lot of pressure on the active duty as well as on the reserve.”
For that reason, the Air Force has decided to transfer eight helicopters
from a reserve unit in Portland, Oregon, to an active squadron.
According to Morgan, the service has not yet decided where the active
duty squadron will be based, but it may be at Davis-Monthan Air
Force Base, in Arizona. A final decision is pending, after completion
of an environmental impact study. Davis Monthan already is home
to the 305th Rescue Squadron, a reserve unit. Two other reserve
units are located at Patrick Air Force Base, in Florida, and in
The National Guard operates 15 Pave Hawks in Alaska, California
and New York.
The Pave Hawk carries two pilots, a flight engineer and a gunner—who
operates two 7.62 mm machine guns. It’s 64 feet long, 16 feet
high, and can reach speeds of 184 miles per hour. Mission equipment
includes a retractable in-flight refueling probe, internal auxiliary
fuel tanks and an 8,000-pound capacity cargo hook. Rescue equipment
includes a hoist capable of lifting a 600 pound load from a hover
height of 200 feet, and a personnel locating system that is compatible
with the PRC-112 survival radio. (See related story)
But the Pave Hawk still falls short of meeting emerging CSAR requirements,
said Morgan. “The existing platform does not give us a full
capability that we are looking for.”
Operation Enduring Freedom, for example, showed the need for CSAR
helicopters that can fly at high altitudes and perform in rough
terrain and austere weather conditions. The only helicopters that
could meet those conditions in Afghanistan were the Army Special
Operations’ MH-47 Chinooks and the Marine Corps CH-53 Super
Stallions. Many search and rescue missions were assigned to those
crews, because they were the only ones with the adequate capabilities.
(National Defense, June 2002)
Even though the CSAR competition is four years away, major helicopter
manufacturers already are positioning their aircraft to gain a marketing
advantage. The two most likely contenders in this program are the
AgustaWestland US 101 and the Sikorsky H-92 medium-lift helicopters.
The AgustaWestland US 101 is a variant of the EH-101, which has
been sold internationally for many years. The company is a joint
venture of Italy’s Agusta and Britain’s Westland. The
U.S. partner is Lockheed Martin Aerospace Systems.
“Lockheed Martin will be responsible to deliver an Americanized
helicopter,” said Steve Ramsey, the company’s vice president.
If the Air Force chooses the US 101, it will be built in the United
States, using AgustaWestland components. Lockheed Martin had partnered
with AgustaWestland in the early 1990s for the U.K. Royal Navy Marlin
helicopter program, which recently delivered 44 aircraft.
The US 101 has “an anti-icing capability and will provide
advantages at higher elevations,” said Ramsey. The company
is proposing the installation of terrain-following, terrain-avoidance
radar, similar to the system found in the upgraded Chinook and MH-53
The existing EH-101s do not have that kind of capability, but Ramsey
explained that the aircraft will be customized to meet Air Force’s
The EH-101 has a range of more than 750 miles, as well as mid-air
refueling capability. It can reach speeds of 168 knots and can carry
30 troops. It has accumulated more than 20,000 flying hours with
military forces worldwide. Customers include Italy, Canada, Denmark,
Portugal and Japan. The company has a total of 125 helicopters either
on order or in production.
AgustaWestland’s main competitor is proposing a military
variant of the S-92, the H-92, which the company said has more than
1,000 hours of flight testing.
Sikorsky’s Air Force chief engineer, Christopher DeWitt,
said the S-92 won the SAR competition for the Irish Air Corps, which
will purchase three helicopters. The aircraft is on track for a
December 2002 FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) type certification.
According to DeWitt, the H-92 also meets the latest FAA requirements
for a flaw/damage tolerant design, bird strike protection, crash
resistant fuel systems, crash resistant seats and protection from
The H-92 will also accommodate terrain-following/terrain-avoidance
radar, forward-looking infrared, an external rescue hoist, a medical
station, fast rope and repelling provisions and all required PJ
(para-jumper) equipment, said DeWitt.
The S/H-92 evolved from the S-70 Black Hawk and Sea Hawk aircraft.
Its maximum speed is 151 knots and can fly 475 nautical miles without
refueling. The helo has 22 troop seats and an external lift capability
of 11,000 pounds, as well as payload capacity of 11,000 pounds.
Because the cabin is 6 feet high, compared to the Pave Hawk’s
4.5-foot cabin, troops can easily stand up. It is also easier to
treat and accommodate the wounded, said DeWitt.
The S/H-92 recently completed C-5 Galaxy transportability tests,
Both Lockheed Martin and Sikorsky refused to reveal the price of
their aircraft. The HH-60G Pave Hawk unit price is $9.3 million.
The AoA estimated that revamping the existing Pave Hawks would cost
$8 million per aircraft.
As with any major acquisition program, the CSAR helicopter procurement
is contingent upon approval of the ORD by the Pentagon’s Joint
Requirements Oversight Council.
Another issue that may derail the CSAR modernization program is
the ongoing discussion between ACC and the Air Force Special Operations
Command about the possible reallocation of CSAR assets.
“Some segments of the Air Force say the consolidation of
SOF and rescue forces is a done deal,” said an industry source
who requested anonymity. “Rumors are running rampant,”
ACC Commander Gen. Hal Hornburg and AFSOC’s Lt. Gen. Paul
Hester are preparing a report with recommendations on how to restructure
the CSAR forces. Observers predict that ACC may transfer CSAR resources
to AFSOC, because, for many years, the special operations community
has complained that it often is tasked to perform the CSAR missions,
but does not have enough resources.
“Our training in combat search and rescue most often makes
us the first choice by the theater CINCs,” Hester said at
an industry conference last February. “CSAR has always been
a SOF mission,” he added.
According to the industry source, “Gen. Hester is voicing
the same comment that has been voiced by AFSOC for the last decade.
... They still get tagged in certain theaters, because the senior
Air Force leadership doesn’t really understand their own CSAR
assets within ACC.”
If some of the dollars for a new CSAR aircraft went to AFSOC, the
industry official speculated, the special operators may not want
a medium-lift helicopter, but may prefer the CV-22 tilt-rotor. The
Air Force AoA eliminated the CV-22 from consideration, because the
program has had major technical and safety problems, in addition
to being much more expensive than a conventional helo.
“If CSAR goes to AFSOC, what would stop AFSOC from taking
part of the money and use it to assist the V-22 program,”
said the industy source. “With a few more CV-22, they could
do both SOF and rescue missions.”