Exposing ship crews to armed-helicopter missions has become a priority
for the U.S. Coast Guard. As the agency’s missions expand
in the nation’s war on terrorism, Coast Guard mainstays, such
as the HH-60 Jayhawk and HH-65 Dolphin, are being equipped with
sniper rifles and machine guns.
armed helicopter for homeland security project received a $17.4
million increase in President George W. Bush’s proposed budget
for 2006, up from the $2.5 million allocated for 2005. The fund
will be dedicated to establishing five Coast Guard air stations
to employ airborne use of force (AUF).
The Coast Guard’s only law enforcement unit trained and authorized
to use AUF is known as the helicopter interdiction tactical squadron,
or HITRON. Based in Jacksonville, Fla., the squadron was formed
primarily to stop high-speed drug boats by disabling their engines
with sniper fire. Operators fly aboard modified MH-68 helicopters.
But now the Coast Guard plans to modify all of its aircraft for
airborne use of force, as well as to train pilots and aircrew for
the mission, said William Peterson, chief of the office of aviation
forces for the Coast Guard.
Some of the newly armed Jayhawks already are flying, he noted.
“Five HH-60J airframes have been retrofitted with AUF packages.
They are now designated MH-60Js,” Peterson said, adding that
the M prefix designates an airframe as multi-mission.
Among the equipment priorities for armed helicopters are sensor
upgrades, standardized hardware that is compatible with U.S. military
units and other federal agencies, and liquid crystal displays. Exterior
lighting changes and armor enhancements are also being added, he
The added firepower is a logical outgrowth in the post-9/11 security
environment, said Dan Goure, vice president of the Lexington Institute,
a defense-industry think tank based in Arlington, Va.
Goure said that the plan makes sense, given that the Coast Guard
is accustomed to wearing dual hats as law enforcement officers and
Not every station will need an armed helicopter, Goure predicted.
The operational details likely will be situation-specific, based
on the security demands of ports, ground stations and deployed ships.
Operating under two sets of rules of engagement, however, should
be familiar to the Coast Guard.
“Beyond the doctrine there is the culture,” Goure said.
“The Coast Guard is used to getting permission before going
to ‘weapons hot’ … It is used to operating in
an extremely restrictive environment, and that’s not going
The additional guns come amid a larger modernization program to
keep these aircraft in service until 2020. The entire fleet of 96
HH-65 helicopters are being overhauled with new engines to boost
their power, a job which will take until 2007 to finish. Conversion
time for each aircraft is estimated at 66 days.
Only the HH-65C Dolphins with new engines will get the AUF equipment,
Peterson added. Those aircraft will be designated an MH-65C.
The tail rotors and blades will be replaced in the coming years,
he noted. “Nothing is wrong with the current tail rotor or
tail rotor blades,” Peterson said, but he acknowledged the
current tail rotor blades will no longer be manufactured after 2005.
“The newly designed tail rotor allows us to take full advantage
of the increased power available with the newly re-engined HH-65Cs,”
The HH-60 Jayhawks currently fly with forward looking infrared,
or FLIR, systems cannibalized from the Coast Guard’s retired
HH-3F Pelican helicopters. Peterson said these would be replaced
with electro-optical/infrared sensor suites, which will be integrated
into a new cockpit. The Coast Guard awarded a $15 million contract
to Rockwell Collins to equip all 42 aircraft with the Common Avionics
Architecture System (CAAS). The cockpits are being assembled at
the Coast Guard repair and supply center in Elizabeth City, N.C.
After the CAAS upgrade, they will be designated as an HH-60T, or
MH-60T if AUF-equipped, explained Peterson. The cockpits are the
same ones used in U.S. special operations and Marine helicopters.
First flight of the test aircraft is expected in 2006 and installation
of the cockpits is planned for 2007 to 2011.