H-60 Black Hawk
The Black Hawk is the Army's front-line utility helicopter used for air assault, air cavalry, and aeromedical evacuation units. It is designed to carry 11 combat-loaded, air assault troops, and it is capable of moving a 105-millimeter howitzer and 30 rounds of ammunition. First deployed in 1978, the Black Hawk's advanced technology makes it easy to maintain in the field. The Black Hawk has performed admirably in a variety of missions, including air assault, air cavalry and aeromedical evacuations. In addition, modified Black Hawks operate as command and control, electronic warfare, and special operations platforms.
The Black Hawk is a light transport helicopter that performs many missions in the Army. The Black Hawk is the primary helicopter for air assault, air cavalry, and aeromedical evacuation units. Modified Black Hawks also fulfill command and control, electronic warfare, and special operations roles. The Black Hawk has enhanced the overall mobility of the Army because of its dramatic improvements in troop capacity and cargo lift capability compared to the UH-1 "Huey" it replaces. Now, an entire 11-man, fully equipped infantry squad can be lifted in one Black Hawk, and the troops can be transported faster and in most weather conditions. The Black Hawk also is the first utility and assault helicopter that adds to the Army's division-level mobility. For example, it can reposition a 105mm howitzer, its crew of six, and up to 30 rounds of ammunition in a single lift.
The UH-60 was made to fly soldiers into combat. BLACK HAWK has built-in tolerance to small arms fire and most medium-caliber high-explosive projectiles. The aircraft's critical components and systems are armored or redundant to enable it to withstand multiple small arms hits, and its airframe is designed to progressively crush on impact to protect the crew and passengers in a crash. Specifically designed airframe and landing gear features provide a high degree of battlefield survivability.
The Black Hawk first went into combat in the invasion of Grenada in October 1983. It has since served with distinction in Panama Southwest Asia, Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia and elsewhere. UH-60s are also used by U.S. Customs to apprehend drug smugglers. More than 20 nations fly the Black hawks and derivatives. Licensed production is underway in Japan, and coproduction is taking place in the Republic of Korea.
As of early 2002 the US Army had 904 UH-60A's, 539 UH-60L's and 97 "other" UH-60 variants fielded. Maintaining and sustaining this fleet is a major undertaking. With 38% of the UH-60 fleet over 20 years old in FY06 the M model fielding will begin. As a part of the M model fielding a UH-60A to UH-60A recapitalization program will be implemented on a summarized strategic schedule. The top 40 DLR items will be replaced during this recapitalization. The goal is to restore the UH-60A's to new or between the 1st scheduled service. 100% of the aircraft will be evaluated but the engines, transmissions and blades will be replaced during the restoration. This recapitalization program will improve cost and have other life span benefits and improvements.
BLACK HAWK provides the platform for a wide range of derivatives, including EH-60A electronic warfare aircraft, MH-60K Special Operations aircraft, the VH-60 executive transport helicopter, the U.S. Air Force's HH-60G PAVE HAWK, the U.S. Navy's SEAHAWK family of helicopters and the U.S. Coast Guard's HH-60J JAYHAWK for search and rescue. The unit cost varies with the version. For example, the unit cost of the Army's UH-60L Black Hawk is $5.9 million while the unit cost of the Air Force MH-60G Pave Hawk is $10.2 million.
In mid-2001 Flight operations of UH-60 Blackhawks were put on hold for flight due to faulty blade pins. Aviation Material Command, the Army's authority on all aircraft, made the announcement 08 June 2001 that Blackhawks throughout the Army had to replace the faulty pins with a newer model of pin due to cracks in the pin. Each aircraft requires eight blade pins and a lack of supply of the approved pins is keeping the aircraft grounded. Most units hoped to have replaced all the faulty blade pins and have the aircraft flying by the end of this month. The Army already had the pins, it just had to disperse them. However, while the pins are in transit, the majority of units could not perform their missions.
A decision was made in 1999 to extend the service life of the UH-60 for another 25 to 30 years through a Service Life Extension Program (SLEP) that was scheduled to begin in 2002. The extension program for the UH-60 basically created a new aircraft, the UH-60L, from the original UH-60A. While the original SLEP called for the extension of the UH-60’s service life for another 25 to 30 years, the heavy toll taken on the airframe brought on by two decades of non-stop combat operations whittled a decade off that projection, meaning aircraft could be expected to start failing due to maintenance issues by 2015.
In April 2017, a UH-60 Blackhawk crashed in Maryland, killing the pilot and seriously injuring two crewmembers. According to the Washington Post, “The Army’s investigation found that an important internal laminate skin that bonds parts of the rotor system together had disintegrated, causing part of the vehicle’s tail rotor system to fall off mid flight.” Lawyers representing the families of those killed and injured in the accident asserted that “the aircraft posed a high risk of failure if not adequately monitored, inspected, designed, manufactured, overhauled, assembled, sold, reconditioned or certified properly, and that such catastrophic failure could lead to a loss of pilot control.”
A US Army Inspector General report at the time concluded that the Army “did not provide adequate funding and training for UH-60 pilots on the new equipment,” noting that the Army “did not effectively manage airframe condition evaluations for the UH-60 fleet.” While the Army had instituted mandatory safety inspections and flight evaluations for the entire UH-60 fleet, the report found that these required actions were not implemented in nearly 25 percent of the machines.
Following the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter crash in Rochester on 20 January 2021, which claimed the lives of three members of the New York National Guard, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, chair of the Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee, urged the U.S. Department of Defense to launch an investigation into the apparent trend of crashes involving the UH-60 Black Hawk. Less than two weeks after the tragic events in Rochester, three members of the Idaho National Guard were killed while operating a UH-60 Black Hawk outside of Boise, ID — this marked the third crash since December 2019 that had killed National Guard members piloting the helicopter. Similarly, a crash in California involving the MH-60 helicopter — a variant of the UH-60 Black Hawk — killed two members of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment.
In a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Gillibrand is called for an investigation and a briefing on these incidents to determine if there is a pattern of malfunction with the UH-60 Black Hawk. “These recent helicopter crashes are tragic and reveal a disturbing trend that must be investigated,” said Senator Gillibrand. “When our brave service members put on their uniforms and go to work, they should have confidence their command is looking out for the safety and readiness of their equipment. I’m urging the DoD to launch a comprehensive investigation of these UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter crashes to determine if there is a pattern. I pray for the families of the service members who lost their lives in crashes and I will keep fighting to ensure our armed services have safe equipment.”
The aircraft loss rate which triggered Sen. Gillibrand’s concern mirrors that which was experienced by the UH-60 Black Hawk during its first six years of operational service (between 1982 and 1988, although some aircraft had been flown since the mid-1970’s), when 31 Black Hawk helicopters were involved in major accidents that killed 65 servicemembers. At that time, the Army declared that the Black Hawk “has the lowest accident rate of any Army helicopter in the first six years of its use,” while noting that helicopter safety records tended to improve with experience.
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|