Naval Helicopter Operations
Shipboard or overwater specified tasks are found in nearly all regional contingency plans, JTF plans, and counternarcotics operations. Shipboard missions require deck landings and support operations performed from a ship. Overwater missions include operations over open water but originate and/or end at a land base.
Naval helicopter mission areas include Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) and Surface Warfare (SUW), Airborne Mine Countermeasures, Naval Surface Fire Support (NSFS), Naval Special Warfare (NSW), Vertical Replenishment (VERTREP), Mobility (MOB), Search and Rescue (SAR), Medical Evacuation (MEDEVAC), and VHF/UHF/Link Communication Relay (COMREL).
- An ASW helicopter will traditionally team with a surface ship to prosecute an underwater target. The helicopter will deploy multiple sonobuoys and then utilize tactical sensor systems installed on both the surface ship and the helicopter in order to localize the target. In a USW mission, the SH-60B helicopter is launched in response to a contact generated by own-ship sensors or external sensors.
- When used in an Surface Warfare [SUW] mission, the aircraft provides a mobile, elevated platform for observing, identifying, and localizing threat platforms beyond the parent ship's radar and/or electronic support measure (ESM) horizon. When a suspected threat is detected, classification and targeting data is provided to the parent ship via the datalink for surface-to-surface weapon engagement. Penguin missile equipped aircraft may conduct independent or coordinated attack, dependent upon the threat and tactical scenario. In an Antiship surveillance and targeting [ASST] mission, the SH-60B helicopter provides remote radar and ES sensors that can be controlled by, and interfaced through, the ship's radar and ES systems. Thus, the effective surveillance, detection, classification, and targeting ranges of the ship are greatly extended.
- In Naval Surface Fire Support (NSFS), the helicopter provides an excellent platform for gunfire spotting. By flying a tight circle or figure eight, the helicopter can maintain a relatively stationary position from which the pilot and spotter can observe the area between salvo signal and fall of shot.
- Naval Special Warfare Forces [NSW] strike and rescue forces use sea-air-land (SEAL) teams, various air assets, fast attack-vehicles, and specialized surface craft. Squadrons equipped with HH-60H helicopters are trained to conduct day and night CSAR and naval special warfare (NSW) operations in a hostile environment against small arms and infrared (IR) missiles.
- As a minesweeping component, helicopters may be employed to prevent sweepers from being mined, provide visual intelligence for minesweepers, verify sonar contacts, and locate and mark mines. The AMCM squadron is capable of minehunting, bottom conditioning, and sweeping moored, magnetic, and acoustic mines and providing AMCM command and control functions. When involved in mine demolition operations, helicopters shall maintain a safe position of at least 1,000 feet (slant range) from the mine.
- Helicopters are used to deliver dry cargo (including ammunition and passengers) only. Since this method is more rapid and simpler in terms of shiphandling, it is the preferred method of UNREP if no fuel is to be transferred. VERTREP can be conducted simultaneously with CONREP to speed the delivery of cargo while fuel is being delivered. VERTREP provides a capability for augmenting and enhancing alongside replenishment and also permits increased flexibility and considerable latitude in replenishment planning, particularly regarding time and location of the UNREP operation.
- In the Communications Relay (COMREL) mission, the aircraft serves as a receiver and transmitter relay station for over-the-horizon (OTH) communications between units.
- In the SAR mission, the aircraft is designed to search for and locate a particular target/object/ship or plane and to rescue personnel using the rescue hoist. LAMPS crews are trained for both maritime and overland search and rescue missions.
- In the Medical Evacuation (MEDEVAC) MEDEVAC mission, the aircraft provides for the medical evacuation of ambulatory and litterbound patients.
- Mobility (MOB) operations are the transfer of personnel. If landing is not practicable, the transfer will be made by hoist. Transfers of personnel to and from submarines by helicopter are not a routine operation.
In aviation support, the ship provides the combined benefits of a landing zone, maintenance and work areas, fuel farm, air operations planning facilities, and command and control, while also providing for sustainment, creature comforts, and daily necessities. A multi-spot ship is a ship certified to have three or more adjacent landing areas. A single-spot ship is a ship certified to have less than three adjacent landing areas.
Air-capable ships are all ships other than aircraft carriers; aircraft carriers, nuclear; amphibious assault ships, landing platform helicopter; general purpose amphibious assault ships; or general purpose amphibious assault ships (with internal dock) from which aircraft can take off, be recovered, or routinely receive and transfer logistic support. All Air-Capable Ships (ACS) and Amphibious Assault Aviation Ships (AAS) are configured to conduct helicopter and/or V/STOL operations; Helicopter In-Flight Refueling (HIFR); Vertical Replenishment (VERTREP); Recovery Assist, Secure, and Traverse (RAST); or other air operations.
Sea Power 21 is a three-component system-of-systems concept consisting of Sea Shield, Sea Strike, and Sea Basing. Sea Basing will minimize constraints that host nations can place on overseas land bases by sustaining forward-deployed forces from the sea. Joint forces will thus be able to accelerate deployment and employment times, enhance sea-borne positioning of joint forces, provide offensive and defensive power projection, and integrate sea-based joint logistics, command and control. Future vertical lift assets of all types will have to seamlessly flow into the command and control structure of this forward operating base at sea. These joint force assets will have to be maritime capable, fully network-centric, and may even demand longer operating ranges. As this concept matures, it will likely create the demand for additional vertical lift assets, the numbers and composition of which can not be accurately forecast at this time. Sea Shield will integrate information superiority, total force networking, and an agile and flexible sea-based force in an innovative approach to 21st century Navy warfighting.
The Navy has started this new concept of operations by transitioning from eight type model series of rotary-winged aircraft to three. The three aircraft will be MH-60R, MH-60S, and the MH-53E. These Sea Shield aircraft, along with future unmanned assets, will provide a protective cover for Navy/Marine Corps expeditionary and strike groups, as well as future sea basing concepts. As unmanned technology matures and operational confidence grows, one could expect to see a growing reliance on UAV technology and potentially a shift away from manned assets for weapons delivery, as evident by the arming of Predator. The use of these unmanned systems will have the additional benefit of reducing the number of flight hours for the MH-60R, leading to less maintenance and longer life per aircraft. For the time being, manned aircraft have the primary role in weapons delivery because today's manned aircraft carry more weapons than today's UAVs.
- SH-60B is an airborne platform-based helicopter aboard cruisers, destroyers, and frigates. The SH-60B's primary missions are ASW and ASuW, and the helicopter is an integrated weapon system for the Navy's surface combatant forces. The SH-60B deploys sonobuoys and torpedoes in an ASW mission and is also capable of firing missiles in combat SAR missions. Secondary missions supported by the SH-60B include electronic warfare and command, control, and communications.
- SH-60F is a carrier-based helicopter that includes dipping sonar (AN/AQS-13F) and sonobuoy processing systems used to detect and localize submarines in the water; however, it lacks a surface search radar system. The SH-60F's primary mission is ASW, but the helicopter also contributes to maritime interdiction and SAR operations.
- HH-60H is a carrier air wing helicopter and performs the mission of combat SAR and special operations warfare support. Executing missions from either air-capable ships or from ashore, the HH-60H is equipped with the Forward Looking Infrared Receiver/Laser Rangefinder Designator (FLIR/LRD) coupled with HELLFIRE missiles to respond to primary missions.
In 2002 the CNO approved a fleet proposal to restructure the Navy helicopter forces around the two linchpin airframes to the Helicopter Master Plan, the MH-60R and MH-60S. This new concept of operations (CONOPS) will align the leadership of Helicopter Aviation with the Carrier Air Wing and bring about warfighting efficiencies. The helicopter force will downsize from seven type/model/series to two while meeting littoral warfighting requirements. Capitalizing on efficiencies of singular maintenance, logistics, and training systems, our plan satisfies the needs of both active and reserve forces. This continued with the subsequent Navy Helicopter Concept of Operations (CONOPS) [Helo CONOPS].
- The MH-60R Multi-Mission Helicopter is the future aircraft for the Navy's tactical helicopter community supporting Surface Combatants and Aircraft Carriers. The MH-60R will eventually replace the Navy's existing fleet of SH-60B and SH-60F helicopters. Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 71 received its first MH-60R on 04 October 2007. HSM-41, the Fleet Replacement Squadron, was the first Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron Light (HSL) to transition to HSM, in December 2005.
- The MH-60S Multi-Mission Combat Support Helicopter is the future aircraft for organic airborne mine countermeasures, combat search and rescue, special operations, and logistics support. The MH-60S will replace the Navy's aging fleet of H-46, H-1, H-3 and HH-60H helicopters. Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 8 received its first MH-60S helicopter on 13 September 2007. On 28 September 2007, HSC-8 became the Navy's first Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron (HS) to transition to HSC.
Shipboard helicopter operations are different from land-based operations. A ship is designed to provide warfighting requirements to operate in the three-dimensional maritime environment. In aviation support, the ship provides the combined benefits of a landing zone, maintenance and work areas, fuel farm, air operations planning facilities, and command and control. She also provides for sustainment and creature comforts including living, dining, and recreation provisions, as well as other daily necessities such as the ship's laundry, store, and barber shop.
Above all else, the shipboard environment demands the epitome of teamwork. At any time there can be an event, combat-related or otherwise (e.g., heavy weather), that may affect every member of the crew. Even during peacetime, the ever-present dangers of flooding or fire can require sounding "General Quarters" which stations the crew (including helicopter detachments) to an assigned battle station. In flight operations it is important to understand the potential lethality of the flight deck environment.
Helicopters create special hazards, and catastrophic accidents can severely damage a ship and cause injury and/or death. Helicopter accidents can happen at any time and can involve anything from a crash on takeoff/landing to in-flight emergencies that require an immediate landing. Additionally, accidents can involve injury CO ship's personnel from numerous areas, such as, static electricity discharge during hoisting evolutions, inadvertent external cargo release during VERTREP operations or injury from debris blown about by rotor wash.
If an aircraft mishap occurs there is the real possibility of a major conflagration because of the explosive characteristics of fuel and ordnance, that if not properly responded to, may cause the loss of ship and lives. It is incumbent on every person embarked on a ship to know their responsibilities during the many evolutions that transpire during normal ship's routine, and ship's company (crew) has the responsibility to impart that knowledge to personnel not familiar with ship surroundings.
From the aircrew perspective, there is a sequence of events that occurs when flying inbound for landing on a ship. Simultaneously, the ship will be executing a series of evolutions to receive the inbound helicopter. Having received an overhead message in advance of scheduled operations, the aircrew will know the ship's location, assigned radio and navigation aid frequencies, and time expected to arrive overhead the ship.
Ships, unless constrained by outside influences (other ships, restricted or warning areas, national airspace, military operating areas (MOAs)), have airspace control areas that need to be adhered to. Aircrews are expected to check in with the ship prior to entering the control area, or as soon as possible, emission control conditions permitting. When communicating with the ship the international or daily changing call sign (as specified in the overhead message) should be used.
The greatest degree of landing difference between land and sea operations occurs from short final to wheels on deck. For both, the rate of closure to the intended landing spot is affected by head winds, but for the sea environment this is complicated by relative motion with the ship's movement through the water. As the helicopter approaches the flight deck, the uninitiated should avoid a tendency to fixate on the movement of white water from the ship's waterline to the wake. Another area of caution is accounting for burble effects of wind around the superstructure of the ship. Frequently, as the flight deck is approached, there is a potential to get hung up by the invisible "wall" on smaller ships, an area of pressure or wind that requires a correction of additional power and nose attitude to transition. As soon as the "wall" is overcome, then correction is immediately canceled, and the helo air taxies to a hover over the spot and lands.
Saltwater corrosion is one of the major problems encountered when operating helicopters at sea. Most present-day operational helicopters have structural components made of materials that are susceptible to saltwater corrosion. Additionally, gas turbine engines used in helicopters can suffer a critical loss of performance because of saltwater corrosion and salt encrustation. Damage resulting from corrosion can quickly reduce all aircraft to a nonoperational status unless an effective program of corrosion control is rigorously pursued. The ship is responsible for maintaining a suitable stock of corrosion control materials, tailored to the appropriate type of helicopter, when a detachment is embarked.
Air-capable ships should provide sheltered deck space for helicopters whenever possible. Freshwater outlets and hoses shall be available on the flight deck so that the aircraft can be washed down with fresh water. Although creating an additional demand on the water distilling and storing facilities, a daily freshwater wash down is the most effective method of preventing saltwater corrosion. The frequency of wash downs must be determined on an individual ship basis with due consideration given to operating conditions and the availability of fresh water from the ship and from outside sources.
During helicopter hoist/external load operations, static electricity as high as 200,000 volts is generated. The helicopter cable or cargo hook must be grounded to discharge this electricity. Handling the cable or cargo hook with bare hands prior to proper grounding may cause injury to personnel. The grounding wand is designed to protect ground personnel from static electrical shock when working with all helicopters.
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