If you are fond of watching Five-Sided Puzzle Palace gyrations, then chances are you learned recently in the news that a sequester-level budget will not fund the Combat Rescue Helicopter, or CRH. Last year, the Air Force awarded a joint venture between Lockheed-Martin and Sikorsky that would replace the aging HH-60G fleet with 112 HH-60M models.
The Rescue community has not taken the news well. Elected officials are speaking out in the name of jobs, and a website was created to lobby grassroots support for the CRH. I don’t know if “taking the lead” of a guy forced to retire by the former SECDEF is the soundest strategy, but hey, any port in a storm I guess. At least you know the guy is connected.
So, what’s the big deal? Well, the Air Force is pretty much flying the blades right off the HH-60G. Helicopter maintenance is tricky enough, what with wings that move faster than the fuselage. Add all the battle damage sustained and gargantuan increase in flight hours associated with even just a few years of “all in” CASEVAC work in OEF, and you have a fleet in decline.
The best chance the Air Force had at replacement was all the way back in 2006, when CSAR-X was awarded to Boeing and its proposal utilizing the HH-47. But then, those silly rules got in the way, and that pesky recession hit, and finally SECDEF Gates hit the brakes on the whole thing in 2009, questioning the need for a CSAR-specific bird in the first place.
Now, we’re living in an era of fiscal austerity and political gridlock, and things look worse than ever for CSAR. It’s a pretty simple equation: without flyable 60s, the Air Force can’t prosecute Rescue. It’s just that simple.
So, now what? It turns out the Air Force has options: AFSOC wants the CSAR mission (again.) This might be news to you, but in the Air Force, CSAR lives under the thumb of the fighter pilot-dominated Air Combat Command. AFSOC is, of course, CSAR-capable, but it’s the fighter and bomber community who stand to gain the most from CSAR in a conventional war against an adversary fielding a capable air force and integrated air defense.
Also important to note is the fact that the director of the Joint Staff is Lt. General Goldfein, a guy who was on the receiving end of Rescue as a F-16 driver shot down during Operation ALLIED FORCE. CSAR has gone to AFSOC before, in the 90s and again in the early 2000s; but in both those cases, CSAR returned to ACC.
(Main Photo is a U.S. Air Force HH-60G Pave Hawk courtesy of the USAF)