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Air Force to replace combat search and rescue helicopters

by Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez
Air Force Print News

1/18/2006 - WASHINGTON (AFPN) -- Air Force combat search and rescue teams will use a new helicopter -- the now under development CSAR-X -- to help recover downed pilots around 2012.

The new helicopter will replace 101 HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters Air Force combat search and rescue teams now use.

The Air Force expects to begin purchasing the new aircraft by fiscal 2009, with delivery by fiscal 2011. They will be operational in fiscal 2012.

The cost of the new system is not yet determined because it will be based on the final source selection, said Lt. Col. Dave Morgan, combat search and rescue program element monitor for Air Force acquisition.

The Air Force must enhance the Pave Hawk fleet's size and availability for use by combatant commanders, said Lt. Col. Michael T. Healy, Air Force deputy division chief for mobility, combat search and rescue and special operations requirements.

"The HH-60 also has capability shortfalls, predominantly in range and in cabin size," he said. "It is just fundamentally too small of an aircraft to do the mission we are asking it to do."

The Air Force is considering several replacements for the HH-60. They are all based on existing helicopters which need modification to meet Air Force needs.

The replacement doesn't have to be a helicopter. But a fiscal 2002 analysis of alternatives determined a helicopter would probably be the most cost effective answer to Air Force Special Operations Command's call for a new airframe.

"We will select that which has the most benefit and cost-effective solution and will then take that decision forward, meet a milestone decision with the defense acquisition board and award a contract in Fiscal 2006," Colonel Morgan said.

The acquisition strategy takes an existing aircraft and adds the capabilities needed for the CSAR mission. Building a new search and rescue platform on top of an existing airframe will bring the new hardware to pararescuemen sooner. And it will be more cost effective, Colonel Morgan said.

The CSAR-X requirements will make up for many of the HH-60’s shortfalls -- most notably its size.

Colonel Healy said, "If (the HH-60) were fundamentally a bigger aircraft, there would be other things we could do to it, such as improving the engines and adding different systems that could meet our requirements. But when you have an aircraft that small you just can't add any more to it. There is no more room."

Colonel Healy said, “no matter which candidate wins CSAR-X, it will include room for more specialized equipment and -- perhaps even more critical -- for more injured passengers.”

An increase in cabin size was a requirement developed by direct involvement with the search and rescue community -- specifically with pararescuemen who fly in the HH-60. The cabin size requirement was so important, Colonel Healy said, that the Joint Requirements Oversight Council, chaired by then Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Peter Pace, elevated it to the level of "key performance parameter"

The effective space in the HH-60’s cargo area allows for only one injured person on a stretcher. In the CSAR-X, pararescuemen will have room for four stretchers. In the past, rescuers in an HH-60 were forced to leave equipment behind at a landing zone to accommodate extra passengers.

The CSAR-X will have an auto hover mode that will shoot approaches and do landings without pilots having to touch the controls. These kinds of additions will help pilots during landing under brownout conditions.

Requirements also specify the replacement aircraft be able to travel greater distances. The HH-60 can fly about 160 nautical miles, do a 30-minute rescue operation and return. The CSAR-X will be able to double the range to some 325 nautical miles.

The Air Force will add 141 CSAR-X aircraft to its combat search and rescue forces. They will provide units more capability. At that time, HH-60s will begin to retire.

The benefit of the new airframe will extend beyond the Air Force. The combat search and rescue capability will benefits all services. That fact was reemphasized when the Joint Requirements Oversight Council validated the requirement for the aircraft, Colonel Healy said.

"They made a very strong statement that this is a critical capability for our combatant commanders all over the world," he said. "We can go places others can't. The CSAR-X is a very efficient and interdependent way to exercise this capability -- so we can rescue those Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and downed Airmen.

“This has a lot of joint impact,” he said.

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