MH-53E Sea Dragon
The newest military version of Sikorsky's H-53E/S80 series, the MH-53E Sea Dragon, is the Western world's largest helicopter. The MH-53E is used primarily for Airborne Mine Countermeasures (AMCM), with a secondary mission of shipboard delivery. Airborne Mine Countermeasures (AMCM) missions include mine sweeping and ancillary spotting, mine neutralization, floating mine destruction, channel marking, and surface towing of small craft and ships. Additional mission capabilities include air-to-air refueling, hover in-flight refueling, search and rescue, and external cargo transport operations, in both land and seaborne environments. The MH-53E Helicopter also has the ability to perform Vertical Onboard Delivery (VOD) missions as well as transportation of personnel and cargo.
Developed by Sikorsky, the MH-53E is a reconfigured version of the CH-53E Super Stallion presently being used by the Marine Corps. Both the CH-53E and MH-53E are involved in development and modernization programs. They will continue to provide a myriad of support functions for the fleet in the area of heavy and medium lift requirements. The prototype, MH-53E, made its first flight on 23 December 1981. It underwent evaluation and testing at the Naval Coastal Systems Center in Panama City, Fla. The MH-53E was derived from the CH-53E Super Stallion and is heavier and has a greater fuel capacity than its ancestor. The MH-53s can operate from carriers and other warships. Sea Dragon is capable of carrying up to 55 troops or a 16-ton payload 50 nautical miles or a 10-ton payload 500 nautical miles. The MH-53E is capable of towing a variety of mine-sweeping countermeasures systems, including the Mk 105 minesweeping sleed, the ASQ-14 side-scan sonar, and the Mk 103 mechanical minesweeping system.
A new type of Navy squadron was developed by combining active duty squadrons with Naval Reserve squadrons resulting in two integrated Helicopter Mine Countermeasures Squadrons (HM), each comprised of six active duty and four reserve MH-53E Aircraft -- HM-14, Naval Base (NB) Norfolk, Virginia; and HM-15, Naval Air Station (NAS) Corpus Christi, Texas. These integrated squadrons each contain ten aircraft; six active duty and four reserve. The primary mission of HM-14 and HM-15 is minesweeping that is conducted independently or in conjunction with surface forces. Mine sweeping missions either use all squadron aircraft assets or deploy separate detachments, as stated in the Required Operational Capability and Projected Operational Environment (ROC/POE).
The MH-53E Helicopter is a new production aircraft first introduced to the fleet in Fiscal Year (FY) 87. New production aircraft were delivered to the Naval Air Reserve beginning in November 1993. Forty-four MH-53E helicopters have been delivered to the Navy. The MH-53E Helicopter replaced the RH-53D in the fleet and fleet reserve squadrons. MH-53E deliveries to HM-14 and HM-15 (including Reserves) are completed.
Helicopter Combat Support Squadron (HC)-4 in Sigonella, Sicily, transitioned from CH-53E to MH-53E Helicopters on a one-for-one basis, for a total of nine aircraft. This transition took place between April and September 1995. The mission of HC-4 was not affected by this transition; their assigned MH-53Es are not configured for AMCM missions, and are used primarily in fleet support roles.
The MH-53E Helicopter was procured by Japan directly from Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation. The Navy provides support for the procured aircraft through the H-53 Foreign Military Sales (FMS), Program Manager, Air (PMA) 226-0121, Cherry Point.
All MH-53E Helicopter Pilots receive ground training and aircraft familiarization using simulators at Airborne Mine Countermeasures Weapon Systems Training School (AWSTS), Norfolk, Virginia. Basic MH-53E Pilot and Aircrew flight training is conducted at HMT-302, Marine Corps Air Station New River, North Carolina. Flight crews destined for AMCM activities receive further mission and tactics training at AWSTS, while MH-53E fleet support Pilots and Aircrew proceed directly to HC-4, Sigonella, Sicily. Organizational level maintenance training is conducted at Maintenance Training Unit (MTU) 1031, Naval Air Maintenance Training Unit, Norfolk, Virginia.
For AMCM missions, the MH-53E Helicopter is operated by a crew of seven consisting of pilot, copilot, safety observer, port and starboard AMCM equipment handlers, and port and starboard ramp operators. Enlisted personnel from aviation maintenance ratings with Navy Enlisted Classifications (NECs) 8225 or 8226 perform aircrew duties. These squadrons also perform secondary missions such as transportation of passengers, equipment, and cargo, as well as VOD missions.
An MH-53E Sea Dragon helicopter of the Helicopter Mine Countermeasures Squadron (HM) 14 Vanguards went down during a routine training mission in the Atlantic Ocean 25 January 2005 approximately 28 miles off the coast of Virginia at approximately 3 p.m. with eight people aboard. All eight were rescued and are being transported by two MH-60S Knighthawk helicopters to Portsmouth Naval Medical Center.
On 19 July 2012, an MH-53E Sea Dragon helicopter assigned to the US Navy's Helicopter Mine Countermeasure Squadron 15 crashed 58 miles southwest of Muscat, Oman while conducting heavy lift support operations. HM 15 had been conducting operations in the region, including in cooperation with the USS Ponce, and may have had a detachment assigned to the ship. The Department of Defense immediately noted that the crash was not due to hostile activity, though the status of the aircraft's 5 crewmembers was not initially clear. Another MH-53E helicopter assigned to the same squadron was sent to the scene, where it provided search and rescue assistance.
By 2016 the MH-53E Sea Dragon continued to conduct airborne mine countermeasures, vertical on-board delivery and heavy-lift missions in the fleet. Current plans included transitioning the MH-53E airborne mine countermeasures capability to the Littoral Combat Ship Mine Countermeasures Mission Package, which included the MH-60S and various unmanned airborne, surface and subsurface vehicles. Although the Navy had not identified a replacement for the MH-53E's heavy lift capability, the CMV-22B will provide interim vertical onboard delivery mission support beginning in 2021 as an adjunct capability.