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Search-and-rescue helicopter competition delayed until '06.

The Air Force combat search-and-rescue aircraft modernization program is being delayed possibly until 2006, pending funding approval for the purchase of new helicopters and a possible reorganization of CSAR assets.

The Air Combat Command--the agency responsible for managing the CSAR units and aircraft--decided nearly two years ago that it needed to replace the HH-60G Pave Hawk twin-engine helicopter, which is approaching the end of its service life. The Pave Hawk has been the CSAR workhorse for more than two decades.

Initially, the Air Force had planned to select a replacement helicopter in 2004. But it is more likely that the program will start in 2005 or 2006, said Air Force Maj. David Morgan, who is in charge of the CSAR modernization program at ACC.

"We currently have funding available starting in fiscal year 2005 for a new aircraft to replace the HH-60," he told National Defense. So far, however, a program office has not been created. "If the program office will start in '05, we will put out a proposal and that will take some time. The competition will start around 2006."

Morgan noted that all these are speculative dates. The Air Force still has nor completed its fiscal 2004 spending plan, so things could change, he said.

Morgan refused to specify a dollar amount for the program. Industry sources estimated that the Air Force could spend up to $6 billion on as many as 132 helicopters. But Morgan said the amount budgeted will depend on "how many aircraft will be replaced and what type of aircraft will be procured."

The Air Force completed an Analysis of Alternatives, or AoA, more than a year ago. It concluded that the best solution would be to purchase a new medium-lift helicopter, rather than upgrade the existing platform or go through a service life extension program.

The AoA noted that the most important performance factors in selecting a CSAR platform are response time, capacity and survivability. (National Defense, September 2001). The new aircraft would have to be more survivable, because the Air Force A-10 fixed-wing aircraft, which traditionally provides rescue-escort support, may not be in service by the time the new CSAR helos are deployed.

Currently, "we are not evaluating aircraft. That is what the program office will do in fiscal 2005," said Morgan. "At this time, we are drafting the ORD [operational requirements document]."

The HH-60 Pave Hawk, a twin-engine, medium-lift helicopter has been a reliable platform for 20 years. The Pave Hawk is a modified version of the Sikorsky-built Black Hawk used by the U.S. Army. It is designed to conduct day or night operations in hostile environments and to recover downed aircrews and personnel behind enemy lines. It also participates in civil search and rescue, emergency aero-medical evacuation, disaster relief, international aid, counter-drug activities and NASA support.

Last year, the Air Combat Command estimated that the entire Pave Hawk fleet will have exceeded its 7,000 flight hour life expectancy by 2019.

The active force has 64 Pave Hawks, the Air National Guard has 15 and the reserves have 21.

The Air Force active-duty CSAR units operate 36 aircraft at Nellis Air Force Base, in Nevada, and at Moody Air Force Base, in Georgia, in addition to others overseas, in Iceland and Japan. The remaining 28 are used for training and other activities.

Because there are so few Pave Hawks, said Morgan, it is always in demand. "We are stretched thin," he said. "It puts a lot of pressure on the active duty as well as on the reserve."

For that reason, the Air Force has decided to transfer eight helicopters from a reserve unit in Portland, Oregon, to an active squadron. According to Morgan, the service has not yet decided where the active duty squadron will be based, but it may be at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, in Arizona. A final decision is pending, after completion of an environmental impact study. Davis Monthan already is home to the 305th Rescue Squadron, a reserve unit. Two other reserve units are located at Patrick Air Force Base, in Florida, and in Portland.

The National Guard operates 15 Pave Hawks in Alaska, California and New York.

The Pave Hawk carries two pilots, a flight engineer and a gunner--who operates two 7.62 mm machine guns. It's 64 feet long, 16 feet high, and can reach speeds of 184 miles per hour. Mission equipment includes a retractable in-flight refueling probe, internal auxiliary fuel tanks and an 8,000-pound capacity cargo hook. Rescue equipment includes a hoist capable of lifting a 600 pound load from a hover height of 200 feet, and a personnel locating system that is compatible with the PRC-112 survival radio. (See related story)

But the Pave Hawk still falls short of meeting emerging CSAR requirements, said Morgan. "The existing platform does not give us a full capability that we are looking for."

Operation Enduring Freedom, for example, showed the need for CSAR helicopters that can fly at high altitudes and perform in rough terrain and austere weather conditions. The only helicopters that could meet those conditions in Afghanistan were the Army Special Operations' MH-47 Chinooks and the Marine Corps CH-53 Super Stallions. Many search and rescue missions were assigned to those crews, because they were the only ones with the adequate capabilities. (National Defense, June 2002)

Industry Competitors

Even though the CSAR competition is four years away, major helicopter manufacturers already are positioning their aircraft to gain a marketing advantage. The two most likely contenders in this program are the AgustaWestland US 101 and the Sikorsky H-92 medium-lift helicopters.

The Agusta Westland US 101 is a variant of the EH-101, which has been sold internationally for many years. The company is a joint venture of Italy's Agusta and Britain's Westland. The U.S. partner is Lockheed Martin Aerospace Systems.

"Lockheed Martin will be responsible to deliver an Americanized helicopter," said Steve Ramsey, the company's vice president. If the Air Force chooses the US 101, it will be built in the United States, using Agusta Westland components. Lockheed Martin had partnered with Agusta Westland in the early 1990s for the U.K. Royal Navy Marlin helicopter program, which recently delivered 44 aircraft.

The US 101 has "an anti-icing capability and will provide advantages at higher elevations," said Ramsey. The company is proposing the installation of terrain-following, terrain-avoidance radar, similar to the system found in the upgraded Chinook and MH-53 helicopters.

The existing EH-101s do not have that kind of capability, but Ramsey explained that the aircraft will be customized to meet Air Force's needs.

The EH-101 has a range of more than 750 miles, as well as mid-air refueling capability. It can reach speeds of 168 knots and can carry 30 troops. It has accumulated more than 20,000 flying hours with military forces worldwide. Customers include Italy, Canada, Denmark, Portugal and Japan. The company has a total of 125 helicopters either on order or in production.

Agusta Westland's main competitor is proposing a military variant of the S-92, the H-92, which the company said has more than 1,000 hours of flight testing.

Sikorsky's Air Force chief engineer, Christopher DeWitt, said the S-92 won the SAR competition for the Irish Air Corps, which will purchase three helicopters. The aircraft is on track for a December 2002 FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) type certification. According to DeWitt, the H-92 also meets the latest FAA requirements for a flaw/damage tolerant design, bird strike protection, crash resistant fuel systems, crash resistant seats and protection from turbine burst.

The H-92 will also accommodate terrain-following/terrain-avoidance radar, forward-looking infrared, an external rescue hoist, a medical station, fast rope and repelling provisions and all required PJ (para-jumper) equipment, said DeWitt.

The S/H-92 evolved from the S-70 Black Hawk and Sea Hawk aircraft. Its maximum speed is 151 knots and can fly 475 nautical miles without refueling. The helo has 22 troop seats and an external lift capability of 11,000 pounds, as well as payload capacity of 11,000 pounds.

Because the cabin is 6 feet high, compared to the Pave Hawk's 4.5-foot cabin, troops can easily stand up. It is also easier to treat and accommodate the wounded, said DeWitt.

The S/H-92 recently completed C-5 Galaxy transportability tests, said Dewitt.

Both Lockheed Martin and Sikorsky refused to reveal the price of their aircraft. The HH-60G Pave Hawk unit price is $9.3 million. The AoA estimated that revamping the existing Pave Hawks would cost $8 million per aircraft.

As with any major acquisition program, the CSAR helicopter procurement is contingent upon approval of the ORD by the Pentagon's Joint Requirements Oversight Council.

Another issue that may derail the CSAR modernization program is the ongoing discussion between ACC and the Air Force Special Operations Command about the possible reallocation of CSAR assets.

"Some segments of the Air Force say the consolidation of SOF and rescue forces is a done deal," said an industry source who requested anonymity. "Rumors are running rampant," he said.

ACC Commander Gen. Hal Hornburg and AFSOC's Lt. Gen. Paul Hester re preparing a report with recommendations on how to restructure the CSAR forces. Observers predict that ACC may transfer CSAR resources to AFSOC, because, for many years, the special operations community has complained that it often is tasked to perform the CSAR missions, but does not have enough resources.

"Our training in combat search and rescue most often makes us the first choice by the theater CINCs," Hester said at an industry conference last February. "CSAR has always been a SOF mission," he added.

According to the industry source, "Gen. Hester is voicing the same comment that has been voiced by AFSOC for the last decade. ... They still get tagged in certain theaters, because the senior Air Force leadership doesn't really understand their own CSAR assets within ACC."

If some of the dollars for a new CSAR aircraft went to AFSOC, the industry official speculated, the special operators may nor want a medium-lift helicopter, but may prefer the CV-22 tilt-rotor. The Air Force AoA eliminated the CV-22 from consideration, because the program has had major technical and safety problems, in addition to being much more expensive than a conventional helo.

"If CSAR goes to AFSOC, what would stop AFSOC from raking part of the money and use it to assist the V-22 program," said the industy source. "With a few more CV-22, they could do both SOF and rescue missions."
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Author:Tiron, Roxana
Publication:National Defense
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2002
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