Search and Rescue Operations Review: USAF Steps Back in Purchase of New HH-60W

The US Air Force is halting purchases of HH-60Ws as it continues to review operations this year.

As the Senate released its new budget proposal for 2023, the USAF announced that it would reduce its purchases of HH-60W Jolly Green II to 75 units from the 113 originally planned. relief operations. Last March, the USAF proudly displayed the HH-60W and announced that the aircraft was in its final phase of operational testing at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada.

The successor to the Air Force’s HH-60G Pave Hawk has made significant advancements, including its ability to support a full range of combat rescue missions. Designed by Lockheed Martin, the rescue helicopter can meet USAF long range and high threat requirements. It has double the versatility and fuel capacity of the legendary Black Hawk, with a robust weapon suite.

The HH-60W “Whiskey” also has built-in defense and sensor systems that are meant to provide a wide range of options for the USAF, especially during critical survival missions.

“Furthermore, by maintaining 100% commonality with all UH-60M engines and dynamic systems, the aircraft provides the world’s most sophisticated rotorcraft at an extremely affordable price and total cycle cost of ownership. of life”, Lockheed Martin Remarks.

Unloading crews from two HH-60W “Jolly Green II” combat rescue helicopters at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., Feb. 17. (Source: Defense Visual Information Distribution Service/getarchive)

During the March test flights, the 88th’s commander, Lt. Col. Keith Craine, said they were focused on incorporating the HH-60W into their rescue tactics and techniques. During testing, Lt. Col. Craine said he was optimistic about the helicopter’s abilities to help the Air Force.

“This allows us to more effectively utilize the capabilities of other US Air Force assets to collect information on isolated personnel and enter more heavily defended areas,” Craine said in the statement.

However, in a few months, the USAF is backtracking on its commitment to further integrate the HH-60Ws into its operations. Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said it was just a quick response to what they are seeing with Russian and Chinese forces.

“The scenarios that worry us the most are not the same as before,” Kendall told reporters during a Friday pre-budget briefing. “When we were doing counterinsurgency and losing pilots in those kinds of situations, the needs were different. Acts of aggression like the ones we see in Europe, or we might see in the Pacific…place us in a very different scenario.

Meanwhile, the Senate Armed Services Committee included a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2023 requiring a briefing on “plans to satisfy the combat lifesaving requirement with U.S. assets if the program of Air Force record was truncated below inventory target”.

USAF ground crew
A United States Air Force (USAF) ground crew with the 28th Expeditionary Refueling Squadron (ERS) inventory tools during minor maintenance of KC-135 Stratotanker refueling aircraft, in support of the operation IRAQI FREEDOM. (Source: US National Archives/getarchive)

Many wonder about sudden changes in the USAF decision to scale back the HH-60Ws as they did not disclose their plans if those helicopters take a back seat. Is there a newer version they are looking to buy? What operations will the older HH-60Ws be assigned to? What are the 75 new units purchased this year used for?

These are the things that will be included in the USAF briefing as requested by the House of Armed Services Committee.

Edward Stanhouse, deputy program director for intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and special operations forces, said the Air Force is looking at the future of combat search and rescue.

“The team is looking at a variety of technologies, in this mode of exploration right now, from… [amphibious to] potential applications of some of these driverless applications. A lot of work, a lot of conceptual work, I think needs to be done in this area to prove the concepts,” Stanhouse said. “But mostly more fast-paced, potentially dual-purpose aspects.”

“You may have seen the Air Force’s look at high-speed vertical take-off and landing aircraft…but can something like this also meet the need for something that can keep up with an escort of aircraft from fight? Helicopters don’t do that very well. We tend to pull them down. So we kind of look at that range of possibilities. The ACC is currently reviewing the requirements set. Air Combat Command has combat rescue in its portfolio, so they look at the range of concepts and then they talk to the AFRL and the industry.

The HH-60W made its first flight in 2019. Will its story be short-lived?

Brandon D. James