MH-53M Pave Low IV
The MH-53M Pave Low IV helicopters in Air Force Special Operations Squadrons are the same Super Jolly Green Giants first sent to Vietnam in 1967. The re-skinned, re-bladed and thoroughly refurbished aircraft have night/adverse weather capability, integrated aircraft survivability equipment, and digital connectivity.
The Air Force is acquiring 50 CV-22 Ospreys to replace its fleet of MH-53J Pave Low helicopters used to insert and extract special operations forces from hostile areas. The Osprey can cruise at 230 knots, and has a two times greater speed, range and payload than the MH-53J.
The MH-53 helicopter fleet is a Low Density/High Demand (LD/HD) asset used to deliver Special Forces into their objective areas. Current and projected worldwide tasks require increasing the fleet size. Air Force Special Operations Command has modernized 25 of the 38 Pave Low IIIEs to the MH-53M Pave Low IV configuration. As of January 2002 the Air Force inventory was 13 MH-53J and 25 MH-53M. HQ-USSOCOM and HQ AFSOC provided funding for conversion of two MH-53J model aircraft to the MH-53M. Warner Robins Air Logistics Center managed the conversions, to be completed by May 2002.
The MH-53M, weighing roughly 50,000 pounds, can carry up to 37 troops or hook load a charge of up to 20,000 pounds.
The MH-53M Pave Low IV is a J-model that has been modified with the Interactive Defensive Avionics System/Multi-Mission Advanced Tactical Terminal or IDAS/MATT. The IDAS/MATT is a modification to the MH-53J Pave Low III (PL-III) aircraft and is now designated as PL-IV. Manufactured by Lockheed Martin, the IDAS/MATT, enhances the defensive capabilities of the Pave Low by providing instant access to the total battlefield situation, through near real-time Electronic Order of Battle updates through digital connectivity and a digital map display. This modification integrated several new avionics systems into the aircraft, including a MATT receiver and a moving digital map. The modification also integrated existing electronic warfare systems to provide consolidated displays and controls. The upgrade also provides a new level of detection avoidance with near real-time threat broadcasts over-the-horizon, so crews can avoid and defeat threats, and replan en route if needed. IDAS/MATT provides instant access to the total battlefield situation. In a battlefield situation, concise and near real-time information is perhaps an aircrew's most reliable asset. With IDAS/MATT the probability of being detected by the enemy is greatly reduced.
Besides the map display, a navigational display provides digital course and bearing information with the push of a button. The heart of the system -- advanced software -- includes an integrated electronic warfare system. Infrared countermeasure controls, including missile warning, radar warning and jammer inputs as well as chaff and flare countermeasures, are on one display. Crews will receive instant cautions and advisories on threats with immediate recommendations, including when to dispense countermeasures. With IDAS/MATT, if the computer senses a threat, it will anticipate the threat with a direct action the crew can take. It will sense the problem and offer us a way to solve it instantaneously. The entire system was designed with the crew member as a priority in consolidating a variety of functions. Special attention was made to display visible instrument panel functions with easy console access while increasing the efficient flow of information.
A color, multifunctional, night-vision compatible digital map screen is the most visible hardware in the system. Located on the helicopter's instrument panel, the display gives an MH-53 crew a clearer picture of the battlefield. Crews have access to near real-time events, including the aircrew's flight route, man-made hazards such as power lines and even enemy electronic threats that are "over-the-horizon." Transmissions are beamed from a satellite to the helicopter's computer and then decoded. The data from the screen provides a perspective of potential threats and their lethal threat radius. It enhances situational awareness and threat avoidance by providing near real-time Electronic Order of Battle updates. Horizontal Situation Indicators, or HSI, replace two existing instruments. Automated navigation data reduces crew workload and increases situational awareness. Features include a digital map system, a MATT receiver, an integrated electronic warfare system, a liquid crystal multi-function display, independent cockpit displays and pilot-selectable display configuration.
The IDAS/MATT upgrade program incorporated the PL-IV aircraft system onto the PL-III simulation network. This upgrade makes possible the software maintenance of the operational flight programs of the MH-53M weapon system. The MH-53M with IDAS/MATT is the world's most software intensive and technologically sophisticated helicopter. The continued high Mission Capability Rate (five percent over Major Command goal) of this Force Activity Designator 1 weapon system is only possible due to the support rendered by the Special Operations Forces Extendible Integration Support Environment with the IDAS/MATT upgrade. The simulation network now supports both aircraft configurations with minimum hardware reconfiguration required. Hardware changes included updating the user interface function to reflect PL-IV cockpit changes and addition of an Embedded Computer Systems/Line Replaceable Unit (LRU) rack to host PL-IV unique LRUs. Software changes included the modification of 10 existing LRU simulations. In addition the flight, visual scene driver, and terrain/target simulations were modified. Software block cycle change cycle time has dramatically dropped with the EISE upgrade. During a recent deployment, an emergency change request was analyzed and a fix developed, coded and tested in about two weeks.
Reportedly, the MH-53M Pave Low IV, are still equipped with the vintage radar and FLIR, and lack infrared engine exhaust suppressors. This result in not only having the highest maintenance requirements in the AFSOC aircraft inventory, but as well, in vulnerability to shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles.
In the early spring of 2000, heavy, continuous rainfall in the southeast part of Africa caused severe devastation and loss of life. Particularly hard hit was the country of Mozambique. The WR-ALC/LU Directorate played a substantial supporting role in the relief efforts for that Southeast African nation. On 2 March 2000, the DoD authorized U.S. Forces in Europe to provide logistical and humanitarian relief support to the area through Operation Silent Promise. The DoD also authorized 16th Special Operations Wing (SOW) to deploy up to six MH-53M heavy lift helicopters for the relief effort. Only five were actually needed.
In FY02, Warner-Robins ALC employees upgraded two of the remaining MH-53Js to MH-53M configurations with kits left over from the original IDAS/MATT program. At the end of FY02, the fleet size stood at 25 MH-53Ms, due to two losses during OEF, and 11 MH-53Js. Plans called for the remaining MH-53Js to be converted to the MH-53M design beginning with a FY03 new start in compliance with the PDM direction. Officials also anticipated the fielding of a new MH-53M configuration calculated to correct system obsolescence and vanishing vendor issues that exist with the currently fielded IDAS/MATT equipment. Experts decided not to add any new capabilities. They expected these modifications to correct existing production deficiencies. Once the new configuration was designed, tested, and fielded on the 11 MH-53Js, the original 25 MH-53Ms would be upgraded in the out years to the new common configuration. Upon program completion, HQ AFSOC would have a fleet of 36 operational aircraft in the same IDAS/MATT configuration.
Airframe and Dynamic Component issues, not addressed in the 2002 Five Year Defense Plan (FYDP) or PDM, might ground the MH-53 fleet before the current FY14 retirement schedule could be met. Based upon the SPO's analysis, without upgrade, the weapon system would be grounded in FY07 and FY08. Following this projection, the Special Operation Forces (SOF) SPO coordinated an upgrade effort with HQ AFSOC that they designated the Aging Aircraft Program (AAP). Plans called for the AAP program to be submitted as an FY05 Appended Program Objective Memorandum (APOM) issue for approval through HQ AFSOC and for submittal from HQ AFSOC to the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM).
During recent years, all MH-53 stakeholders realized that the MH-53M Mission Capable (MC) rate and Aircraft Availability rate were critical performance metrics for determining whether HQ AFSOC and USSOCOM would have the fully operational aircraft available to meet NCA tasking. As such, the SOF SPO, HQ AFSOC, DLA, depot repair organizations and suppliers had worked very hard with remarkable results that assured sustainment of outstanding MC rates. From 1997 to 2000, the average MC rate increased from 56 percent to 80 percent. However, this MH-53M MC rate and Aircraft Availability could not be maintained at this level without the funding of operational and sustainment modifications. Between 1999 and 2002 the MH-53J/M fleet MCR averaged 80 percent, with the highest monthly MC rate reaching 86.9 percent. Driven by the universal belief among the MH-53 work force that no detail was too small, the MH-53M MC rate success had been attained through vigorous supply chain management which employed thorough use of military supply sources, use of commercial vendors, searching international markets, reviewing reclamation venues, and ingenious repair efforts. They also received outstanding support from both government and contractor repair facilities as well as the hard working men and women on the flight lines and back shops at all Air Force operating locations.
In FY02, increased operations tempo (OPSTEMPO) resulting to from OEF resulted in an inordinate number of repairs. In some cases, this meant repairing gearboxes in what would be done normally in three years during peacetime in just eight months. During FY02, piece parts (gears, splines, bearings, gaskets, shafts, seals) for gearboxes have continued to be in short supply. These gearboxes were last manufactured in quantity in the mid-1980s. Many of the piece part vendors have gone out of business, while the MH-53M industrial base has shut down. Moreover, the remaining Navy CH-53E vendors did not manufacture equipment suitable for the 1960s MH-53M. The only way to get piece part vendors back into production again was to place a substantial order. The SOF SPO recommended the order be for 41 complete sets of the gearbox assemblies placed with Sikorsky Aircraft Inc. (United Technologies Corporation), headquarters Stratford, Connecticut, the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM). The SOF SPO concluded that once the piece part vendors resumed business operations, there would be sources for piece part procurement to support future repair requirements.
Two Department of Defense contracting officers were recognized on 12 June 2003 for their innovative and cutting edge business practices. Charles Bright, U.S. Special Operations Command, McDill Air Force Base, Fla., and Nancy Gunderson, Pentagon Renovation (PENREN) Program, received their individual awards at a dinner ceremony as part of the 3rd Annual Federal Acquisition Conference held in Tysons Corner, Virginia. Bright was presented the Ida Ustad Award for Excellence in Acquisition by Steven Perry, Administrator of the General Services Administration (GSA). Sponsored by GSA, the award honors the late Ida Mae Ustad, a former deputy associate administrator at GSA. Bright was recognized for his significant contributions directly supporting the global war on terrorism and for developing the contract to equip MH-53M helicopters with a new defensive system.
Maj. Leighton Anderson was a winner of the 2003 Colonel James Jabara Award for Airmanship for contributions to airpower during Operation Enduring Freedom. The Jabara Award, named in honor of Colonel James Jabara, America's first jet ace, is given annually to an Air Force Academy graduate whose actions directly associated with an aerospace vehicle set him/her apart from their contemporaries. Anderson is a MH-53M Pave Low III helicopter pilot who employed a 'radar altitude hold technique' to land during a mission for Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. While returning to a narrow, high-altitude landing zone to extract a Special Forces team, several other helicopters were unable to land due to the area being obscured with dust. Anderson employed a 'radar altitude hold technique' which he had developed, and was able to land in dust-out conditions and retrieve the ground troops. Not only was Anderson able to land when others were not he knew the ground forces were in danger and loaded 12 additional special operations troops on board. His aircraft held more than triple the planned load and barely had enough fuel to take off. Anderson's radar altitude hold technique is now taught to students during initial aircraft training.
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