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MH-60S Sea Hawk / "Knight Hawk"
CH-60S Sea Hawk / "Knight Hawk"
Fleet Combat Support Helicopter

The CH-60 Fleet Combat Support Helicopter was developed to complement and eventually replace the Navy's aging fleet of H-46 helicopters. As a result of the advanced airframe life of the H-46 fleet, the Navy's logistics helicopter force was experiencing a near-term inventory shortfall. The replacement aircraft had to satisfy all the requirements of the existing aircraft and remain compatible with all existing and future combat logistics force (CLF) ships. The CH-60 program was to be a non-developmental item program that would provide commonality with existing integrated logistics systems and fleet trainers. The CH-60 was the future aircraft for organic mine countermeasures operations, combat search and rescue, special operations, and logistics helicopter forces in the Navy.

The CH-60 configuration evolved to fill the Navy's need for a comprehensive, rugged utility helicopter to replace the helicopters engaged in vertical replenishment (CH-46D, UH-46D and HH-46D), amphibious assault ship search and rescue (HH-46D), strike rescue and special warfare (HH-60H), station search and rescue (HH-1N and UH-3H), utility transport and target recovery (UH-3H), and VIP transport (VH-3A and UH-3H). The CH-60 would also be capable of carrying forward looking infrared (FLIR) sensors and HELLFIRE missiles, making it an even more versatile platform. The Navy needed a Sea Hawk variant, but could not afford a utility version. Since the Army Black Hawk was much less expensive. The solution was to build a hybrid "navalized" Black Hawk that would meet the cost constraints, but could be modified to operate in a ship-board environment. This took advantage of the existing H-60 support infrastructure and reduced the number of different types of aircraft in the inventory. The Navy would save an estimated $20 billion in life-cycle costs over the life of the program.

The CH-60 would be an Army UH-60 Blackhawk utility airframe in combination with Navy SH/HH-60 transmissions and dynamic components. The CH-60 would incorporate new design items that were not in use by either the UH-60 or SH/HH-60 airframe lines. The CH-60 would adapt the Naval H-60 Tail Pylon to the Blackhawk tail cone with a CH-60 unique canted bulkhead at the tail cone, tail pylon interface. This bulkhead would "marry" the 2 components by providing a Naval H-60 interface on its aft face to accommodate the Naval H-60's fold hinges and quick disconnect mechanism; and a UH-60 interface on its forward face to accommodate the UH-60's tail landing gear and tail cone interface. The Blackhawk's tail cone flight controls would be rerouted to accommodate the Naval H-60 rapid fold tail pylon.

Combining the tested and battle-proven US Army UH-60 Black Hawk fuselage and Navy SH-60 Sea Hawk dynamic components, the CH-60 promised to be a superb aircraft. The commonality bred into the helicopter not only contributed to mission effectiveness, but would provide logistics and acquisition efficiencies. The CH-60 was the linchpin of the Navy Helicopter Master Plan. Out-year buys of additional aircraft would replace H-46s as they retired and increased standardization for training, maintenance, and operations as older SH-3s, UH-1Ns, and potentially MH-53s were replaced.

The CH-60 was an amalgam of the Sikorsky Black Hawk helicopter and its Sea Hawk variant. It was a baseline Black Hawk configuration with Naval Hawk engines, rotor system and dynamics, including the Sea Hawk's automatic rotor blade folding system, folding tail pylon, improved durability gearbox, rotor brake and automatic flight control computer. The CH-60S also featured a Lockheed Martin developed glass cockpit, which would ensure commonality with the SH-60R (and subsequently the MH-60R). The glass cockpit incorporated 4 8-by-10-inch active matrix liquid crystal displays, dual integrated programmable keysets, dual flight management computers, an audio management computer, and a dual embedded global positioning system/inertial navigation system.

The Lockheed Martin Common Cockpit incorporated cutting edge avionics architecture and included 2 "smart" multi-function displays (SMFD), 2 multi-function displays (MFD), limited hands on throttle and stick (HOTAS) capability, embedded GPS/INS, 2 mission computers and a flight control computer, all linked by a 1553B data bus. Each SMFD presented flight instrument, warning/caution/advisory (WCA), navigation, and engine information, while each MFD presented aircraft system, detailed WCA, and mission information. Particularly noteworthy, was the novel WCA system that broke the paradigm of the standard caution/advisory panel, incorporating logic, prioritization, and graphics functions during WCA processing and display on the MFD's.

With a large cabin, double cargo doors and external stores support system winglets, the aircraft externally resembled an Army Black Hawk. Most of its Sea Hawk features are internal: engines, rotor brake, folding tail pylon, automatic flight control system, rescue hoist and a more durable gearbox. The production version of the aircraft was to be equipped with reversible floor-boards on the cabin cargo floor, and one side would be fitted with rollers to handle up to 2 standard 4-foot-square cargo pallets.

The Black Hawk airframe provided the larger cabin volume and double-door feature needed for cargo and passenger transport. The CH-60 incorporates a unique integrated cargo handling system. Also from Black Hawk, the CH-60S retained provisions for mounting the external stores support system. This would offer a variety of weapon and fuel tank options that would be very useful for a wide range of missions, including combat search and rescue and special warfare support. The robust CH-60 retained the Black Hawk 9,000-pound external cargo hook, and mounted a Sea Hawk rescue hoist for search and rescue missions.

The existing Fleet Combat Support Helicopter provided the Navy's Combat Logistics Force (CLF) with an at-sea Vertical Replenishment (VERTREP) capability. It also served as the primary search and rescue helicopter for the Amphibious Task Force (ATF), providing essential support to amphibious operations.

The primary missions of the CH-60 would include day and night VERTREP, day and night amphibious SAR, vertical onboard delivery, and airhead operations. Secondary missions of the CH-60 would include Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR), Special Warfare Support (SWS), recovery of torpedoes, drones, unmanned aerial vehicles, and unmanned undersea vehicles, non-combatant evacuation operations, aeromedical evacuations, humanitarian assistance, executive transport, and disaster relief. The CSAR/SWS version of the CH-60 would have additional mission equipment installed that would provide the Navy with capabilities for CSAR and SWS in both the active carrier-based Helicopter Antisubmarine Squadrons and in the Reserve Helicopter Combat Support (Special) Squadrons.

In April 1997, the Navy had awarded Sikorsky a contract to build a YCH-60S helicopter demonstrator to verify the design concept and validate mission suitability. A joint Navy-Sikorsky crew conducted a shipboard demonstration in the YCH-60S later in 1997. The first demonstration CH-60S was produced in FY97 and first flew in October 1997. Preliminary testing was completed and the demonstration aircraft met all expectations. The highly successful YCH-60S demonstrator program created the Milestone II Low Rate Initial Production decision in May 1998. The Navy subsequently joined in a multi-service, multi-year procurement with the Army. Production development began in FY98, and Sikorsky completed the sale of the first 2 CH-60Ss Fleet Combat Support Helicopters to the Navy in December 1999. The Lot I contract awarded in September 1999 called for delivery of 5 CH-60S aircraft in 2000 and an option aircraft in 2001. Sikorsky was awarded a follow on production contract award for 14 Lot II aircraft for deliveries from July 2000 to June 2001.

The CH-60S flight test program was expected to last into 2004. The first phase of the testing was to focus on the job of undertaking cargo hauling then being performed by the aging H-46. That testing was to continue into 2001, with the initial operating capability expected in 2002. The second stage of the helicopter's development would involve the CH-60S's role as the replacement for the MH-53, a heavy-lift anti-mine helicopter. It was expected to be operational in that capacity in 2005. Finally, the CH-60S would be readied to perform the combat search and rescue and special operations missions of the HH-60, becoming operational in that role in 2006.

The Navy had a procurement objective of more than 200 CH-60S aircraft to replace the CH-46D in support of the Navy's Helicopter Master Plan. Based on the existing deployment schedule, the CH-60S was expected to first replace the H-46D helicopters in active Navy Helicopter Combat Support Squadrons. After the H-46s had been replaced, the CH-60S would replace the HH-60H helicopters in the Reserve HCS squadrons, then the UH-3H and HH-1H helicopters used as Naval Air Station search and rescue, range support, and executive transport missions. Finally, the CH-60S would replace the HH-60H helicopters in active Navy HS squadrons. One possibility that was considered with the development of the CH-60S was for a carrier battle group to deploy with SH-60Rs and CH-60Ss on board the carrier, with other CH-60Ss detached to the battle group's logistics ship.

The CH-60S also had several advantages over the HH-60H Seahawk as a strike rescue and special warfare helicopter. The Blackhawk-style tail wheel, positioned further aft, allowed for a steeper landing approach to a confined area. The CH-60S's larger cabin would enable it to carry more troops, while its 2 larger cargo doors would allow more rapid deployment of the rigid inflatable boats for Navy SEAL team members. The CH-60S would also be more crash-worthy, and would be fitted with better self-sealing fuel tanks capable of withstanding rounds up to 7.62mm. The external stores support system installed on the CH-60S would allow more fuel and weapons to be carried.

The Navy also hoped that the CH-60 would be able to meet its biggest challenge: replacing the gigantic Sikorsky-built MH-53E Sea Dragon minesweeping helicopter. Although the CH-60 was too small to tow the heavy minesweeping sleds used by the MH-53E, lightweight towed systems and laser imaging detection and ranging systems promised to make the CH-60 a capable mine hunter.

The investigation of transitioning the Airborne Mine Countermeasures (AMCM) mission to the H-60 platform required the demonstration of the capability to tow water-borne weapon systems from a YCH-60 prototype aircraft. Naval Air Warfare Center, Aircraft Division was tasked by Naval Air Systems Command to conduct a multi-phased test during the concept demonstration. The purpose of the Phase I and II testing was to investigate the YCH-60 aircraft capability to conduct the AMCM tow mission under dynamic conditions. Specifically, the test was designed to determine maximum tow tension and speed and to collect usage spectrum structural data. Flight tests were conducted during a joint Navy and Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation flight test from 17 November 1999 to 17 January 2000 at the Sikorsky Aircraft facility in Stratford, Connecticut and at NAS Patuxent River, Maryland.

The test aircraft, YCH-60 BuNo 966673, was a variant of the Sikorsky Aircraft H-60 Blackhawk helicopter, modified to incorporate a SH-60 Seahawk rotor system, dynamic components, and flight control system. The aircraft was fitted with a tow fitting on the lower airframe in the transition area aft of the main cabin, a tow boom assembly, and a tow cable emergency release circuitry. Tests were conducted at 2 aircraft takeoff gross weight and center-of-gravity combinations, a light build-up configuration and a heavier mission representative configuration, achieved using an Army External Stores Support System (ESSS) and 2 jettisonable 230 gallon auxiliary fuel tanks ballasted with water. Qualitative and quantitative flight tests were conducted under static and dynamic conditions. Aircraft structures were evaluated using real-time telemetry and onboard data recording. Static testing was flown while tethered to the ground and included critical-azimuth events, and incremental tension, skew, and stabilator incidence angle sweeps. Four tow cable jettison events were flown during static test at varied tension / skew / aircraft weight / center of gravity combinations. Dynamic testing included one-engine inoperative height-velocity testing and water-surface towed-body testing using from one to five magnetic orange pipes (MOPs). The one-engine inoperative height-velocity test phase consisted of untethered build-up and 5 tethered simulated engine failures at 3,000 and 6,000 pounds of tow tension. Dynamic tow testing included critical-azimuth events, incremental speed, tension, skew, and stabilator incidence angle sweeps, AMCM turns from 2-4 degrees per second, and a maximum tow tension demonstration.

The aircraft demonstrated the capability to tow up to 6,000 pounds of tow tension and 40 knots ground referenced speed in straight and level flight and turns. A tow tension of 8,900 pounds was demonstrated for structural validation. The forward flight tow-boom-extended envelope for the test boom configuration was established to 90 KIAS and 30 degree angle-of-bank. The aircraft performance, handling qualities, and flight control margins were within acceptable limits and were consistent with H-60 Sea Hawk historical critical-azimuth flight test data. The one-engine inoperative height-velocity testing showed repeatable recoveries from engine failure under tow were possible with less than 85-100 feet of altitude loss. As a result of these finding, recommendations were made for proceeding to follow-on test of a mission representative sub-surface towed body. Flight-test lessons-learned re-emphasized the build-up approach to testing as 'surprises' during test were readily handled with minimum risk. Overall, the test represented a tremendous flight test partnership as both the cockpit and flight test telemetry room were shared during all events by joint Navy / Sikorsky crews. As a result of the tests, the CH-60S ORD was modified in May 2000 to add Organic Airborne Mine Countermeasures (OAMCM) as a primary mission for the CH-60S.

It is unclear when the CH-60S designation was formally assigned, and the helicopter was given the name Sea Hawk. The informal name, "Knight Hawk," (a reference to the H-46 Sea Knights that it replaced) was also used. The Navy's CH-60S helicopter was redesignated as the MH-60S helicopter effective 6 February 2001. Knight Hawk continued to be used as an informal name for the type, though no official name was assigned.

In 2002, the first aircraft were deployed with Helicopter Combat Support Squadron Five. Detachment One (HC-5, Det 1) on board the USNS San Jose (T-AFS 7) recieved some MH-60S aircraft, as did Detachment 6 (HC-5, Det 6) aboard the USS Essex (LHA 2). Both detachments claimed to be the first to deploy the new aircraft. On 4 May 2004, Sikorsky reported that the MH-60S fleet combat support helicopter had passed a significant milestone by eclipsing the 50,000 flight hour mark.

The LFT&E results and legacy H-60 databases indicated that the MH-60S was operationally survivable in its intended operational environment for the baseline configuration missions. The MH-60S was a damage-tolerant aircraft that could withstand multiple small caliber projectile hits, continue to fly, and often complete its mission in spite of incurred damage. The data from the joint LFT&E program was adequate to evaluate the survivability of the Block I MH-60S configuration while conducting its wartime missions. The joint LFT&E program would extend into FY05 and consider Block II and Block III configurations of the aircraft.

In 2005, the USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) became the first West Coast-based LHD to deploy with the MH-60S.

The FY06 budget requests included $632.2 million in procurement and $78.6 million in RDT&E funds for the MH-60S, which was the Navy's primary combat support helicopter designed to support Carrier and Expeditionary Strike Groups. The MH-60S was expected to replace 4 legacy platforms with a newly manufactured H-60 airframe. The MH-60S was in the full rate 5-year MYP contract with the Army. The Army and Navy intend to execute another platform MYP contract commencing in FY07.

The Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation of Stratford, Connecticut was awarded on 30 January 2006, a $271,369,950 modification to a firm-fixed-price contract for the MH-60S. Work would be performed in Stratford, Connecticut, and was expected to be completed by 31 December 2007. Contract funds would not expire at the end of the fiscal year. This was a sole source contract initiated on 4 October 2000. The Army Aviation and Missile Command, Redstone Arsenal, Alabama was the contracting activity.

In January 2007, an MH-60S of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron Twenty-Three (HSC-23) crashed off the coast of California. On 9 March 2007, Sikorsky reported that it had delivered the 100th MH-60S helicopter to the US Navy. It also reported that since 2001, MH-60S aircraft had flown more than 150,000 flight hours, including in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. In September 2007, the US Navy reported that an MH-60S of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron Twenty Five (HCS-25) had crashed into Fena Lake located at Naval Base Guam. In December 2007, Sikorsky announced that it had been awarded an approximately $7.4 billion contract to produce 537 H-60 helicopters, including the MH-60S, with options (including a possible 263 additional aircraft), for a total value of approximately $11.6 billion.

On 19 February 2010, an MH-60S helicopter, reportedly was carrying passengers from Fort Pickett, Virginia to Camp Dawson in Preston County, West Virginia was forced to land. The helicopter, assigned to Helicopter Sea Combat Support Squadron Twenty Six (HSC-26), was operating as part of Operation Southbound Trooper X. The West Virginia Army National Guard subseuqently recovered passengers and crew from the scene, who were treated for injuries sustained.

On 22 December 2010, the Department of Defense announced that Maritime Helicopter Support Company of Woodbridge, Virginia was being awarded a $1,408,576,709 firm-fixed-price performance based logistics contract for repair of various line items for the SH-60B, SH-60F, HH-60H, MH-60R, and MH-60S helicopter systems and components. This contract contained a 4-year period of performance and did not contain a provision for option periods. Work would be performed in Stratford, Connecticut (70 percent) and Owego, New York (30 percent), and was expected to be completed by January 2015. Contract funds would not expire before the end of the fiscal year. This contract was not competitively awarded. The Naval Inventory Control Point, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania wa the contracting activity.

On 28 April 2011, Sikorsky reported that it had produced a total of 200 MH-60S aircraft for the US Navy. It was reported that the US Navy had accumulated 370,000 flight hours on MH-60S aircraft since operations began in 2002.

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