USAF’s HH-60 Rescue Choppers Will Only Be 50 Percent Mission Ready By 2015

Yup, the Air Force’s fleet of 93 HH-60 Pave Hawk combat search and rescue helicopters will only be ready to fly missions 50 percent of the time by 2015, according to service brass.

Only 93 of the remaining fleet of 99 Sikorsky HH-60G search and rescue helicopters are flyable. They are soldiering on despite major cracks in 66 of the airframes. The aircraft have a mission capable rate of 60%, but that is expected to fall to 50% by 2015.

That’s from Flight Global citing Air Force Maj. Gen. Robert Kane’s testimony before lawmakers this week.

The service has been trying to replace the heavily-used Pave Hawk fleet for years (CSAR-X, anyone?). We’ll see what happens with its latest effort, dubbed the combat rescue helicopter, given the huge budget cuts that are on the way.

  • Stan

    They can replace them whenever they want to with new build HH-60s but they want a totally new helo. So they are suffering with their decision.

    • Ken

      The Air Force would love to buy replacement HH-60Gs, but it is a much more difficult task than it appears. The UH-60M is a REALLY heavy airframe compared to the UH-60L that the HH-60G is based on. And since the HH-60G takes off at 22k (max gross) pretty much every day, there’s no way to squeeze that capability into an airframe that will be able to actually hover. And off the shelf the UH-60M is far less capable than the HH-60G. Don’t get me wrong…the M is a great platform for basic troop transport / air assault, but it doesn’t have the Gucci stuff a crew needs to pull off the personnel recovery mission. And the 160th SOAR solution of the MH-60M - let’s just say development of that has been slow. The SOAR folks are about as smart as they come (with a fat wallet to boot), and when they are having a tough time working it out, that means it’s a pretty intense problem.

    • Curt 22

      Ken is spot on, and one more thing…replacing the HH-60G’s with anything takes a LOT of money which the USAF seems unwilling to spend for th Rescue Bubbas.

  • tiger

    Another sign that there are more important Needs in the USAF besides MIG chasing fighters. Many think we should spend on nothing else.

  • Dave

    How about the off the shelf S-92 with proven H-60 technology and common parts. If not that then the MH-53J’s from th 1st SOW were placed in the boneyard a couple of years ago even though they had had more life hours to go after SLEP and other rufurbishment and upgrades over the years. USAF placed them in boneyard because some generals decided USAF special ops was getting out of the helicopter business.
    Heck the US department of state is buying refurbed and upgraded H-3’s to fly their personnel around. Respectfully, a former USAF helcopter mechanic.

    • LoSul

      “Proven” and “S92” are mutually exclusive terms, especially when it comes to a militarized version. With the civil, maybe if you ignore the ongoing gearbox/airframe cracking issues and documented inability to run more than 8-11 minutes oil-out…

      The commonality with UH60 parts is also a complete marketing myth used to try and bait goverment buyers into buying what they think is merely an evolved blackhawk (funny, when selling the 92 to civil buyers its touted as an all-new aircraft). The airframe is totally different, and the dynamic system is entirely different. The main rotor blades are now common with the advanced wide chord blade, but thats about as far as it goes.

  • Lance

    Easy fix either buy CH-53Es from the marines and upgraded them and they can also just buy new U-60M from the Army add some USAF upgrades and fixed. With every dollar going to save the F-35 I doubt they will be a any new new helicopter. I know the trolls here will Bo me for saying that they want new toys whaaa. Not going to happen have to make due. Buying newer airframes and adding improvements can do for the ext decade.

    • Ryan

      They already had picked a helicopter for the SAR-X bird, but then the AF got sued so they had to rebid…MH-60M would be what they would pull from the shelf not the UH-60M.

    • TMB

      The CH-53E loses a lot of power the higher up in altitude it goes. The Ch-53s have long legs and can haul a lot of weight, but they weren’t designed for high altitude performance.

      • Lance

        Than buy UH-60Ms and have the President to tell the army to back off. SAR-X is cancelled due to budget cuts but by buying UH-60Ms and retrofitting USAF systems on them could revive and fix any problems the current fleet has with its helicopters.

        • TMB

          I think the Air Force tried buying some UH-1s right off the line a couple years back for their nuke escort units, but someone in Congress invoked some rule that they had to hold a competition even though the Air Force wanted an already existing aircraft with no changes to it. I don’t know what capabilities CSAR needs in an aircraft, but I’ll bet there are folks in the Air Force who would love to buy more -60 series bird and be done with it.

  • @E_L_P

    Saw the refub location for these machines down in Clearwater Florida some years back. Was great on the Excel spreadsheet. USAF could sustain 3 of these for every one of the bigger helos it replaced. However. It is odd that such a high use community in the mid-East wars now can’t be refurbished / replaced for not much money when compared to all the other things. Interesting USAF economics. Spend up to $100B for the F-22 and F-35 combined thus far and end up with 120 combat coded F-22s. Maybe the Pauper USAF could learn more about how to make ends meet and/or live within their means.

    • William C.

      So F-15s and F-16s forever. I’d hope our country more capable than that.

      • ltfunk

        Not if we buy F-35s

  • guess

    One of the most heavily used airframes, been shot up in combat ops for a decade. Yet we can’t run a succesful replacement program… seems like if it doesn’t go mach 1+ it isn’t a necessity to the airforce

  • Tigger

    How screwed up is this? Yet, there is an open checkbook on the major cost over runs on the F35. Really F’d up!

    • TallinOK

      Totally agree.

  • ltfunk

    The pentagon has a long list of projects that must die so that money can be siphoned off to feed Lockheed. Its everything from the HH-60 replacement to submarine upgrades and replacements.

  • VTGunner

    Buy 120 MH-60S’s and put refueling probes on them. You now have a much more powerful aircraft with more advanced sensors than on the current HH-60G’s and you can share logistics with the Navy.

    Simple. Cheap. And this could start happening now.

    • Ryan

      MH-60M from the Army already have refueling probes.

      • VTGunner

        The Army doesn’t have MH-60M’s we do have HH-60M’s and they definitely don’t have refueling probes. Just looked out my window to double check, and yep definitely no refueling probes. The HH-60M would also be a good option, probably a better one than what I first offer being that these versions are purpose made for medevac

        • Steve W

          I guess those black helicopters with refueling probes from Cambell must be invisible!

          • VTGunner

            I wasn’t aware SOAR had M model birds yet. I thought those were MH-60L’s but I very well may be wrong.

  • Ryan

    Its about time the Air Force scraps their “Search and Rescue” program. They have lost their mission, and now are doing majority medevac overseas rather than rescuing downed pilots. Get rid of your failing SAR program, spend the money on CAS mission and let the Army take it.

    • blight_

      That’s because there are plenty of troopers who need medevac, and not a lot of pilots that need SAR but still the potential to require SAR in the future. And if you have a helicopter and potentially trained medical personnel ready to roll out on a moment’s notice, why wouldn’t you use them?

    • Jay

      Are you serious? I have Army Ranger friends that have told me that if it wasn’t for the Air Force Pararescue (which is the most successful SAR program in the world) they would not be around.

      Here’s their story: “I went in with a TACP to assist in an airstrike on a cave in the Afgan mountains. After calling in the airstrike we start getting lit up from enemy small arms fire. The TACP got shot and was bleeding out. I grabbed his radio and called for medevac and air support. The army did s***. They said it was too hot for their medevac and weren’t coming. A few minutes later I hear chatter over the radio, it was the Air Force. They said, “We’re coming for you.” If it wasn’t for the Air force Pararescue I wouldn’t be here.”

      The Air Force is responsible for all branches’ SAR in hot situations. Because they get called for the toughest jobs when no one else will do them. Have some respect.

      • Rescue Pilot

        Thanks Jay! Its not often that the AF gets kudos from the Army.

        From a former AF Rescue Squadron Commander

      • Ryan

        I’m 100% serious. The 50% mission ready? That is horrible. The cost of supporting there SAR program is outrageous especially when you have a unit by the name of 160th SOAR that can take over that mission. Last summer i was one of two Army flight medics on a HH-60G (129th rescue squadron), their pilots are top of the line, best helicopter pilots i have ever had the chance to meet, but the big Air Force isn’t serious about the program and the job should be switched to the Army.

        • Riceball

          I think that Ryan has something of a point, if the Air Force isn’t going to be serious about SAR then maybe the mission should be transferred over to the Army and the 160th SOAR, hell, even the Marines have shown that they can do SAR in a pinch. Still, while the 160th is probably more than capable of handling the mission it would probably require a bit of an expansion in their personnel and machines as well as extra training before they could take over for AF SAR. Still, threatened with a potential take over by the Army it might spur the Air Force into treating their SAR program a little more seriously.

          • Curt 22

            The SOAR (USASOC) doesn’t WANT the mission and others are correct. In order to handle the increased workload you’d have to add 100 acft and manpower to may as well just leave it with the USAF since moving it doesn’t give you a better, faster, cheaper solution. Now, moving the all of AF PR to SOCOM might have some merit since “Big Blue” doesn’t seem serious about taking care of these forces…perhaps SOCOM would.

        • TMB

          How ridiculous is it that you’d have to have an Army SOCOM unit follow an Air Force group to rescue their own pilots? Air Force SAR is world renouned for what it’s done over the decades. The 160th is already stretched as far as it can be with today’s OPTEMPO. Then again, maybe a credible threat of those units being placed under Army command would spur the Air Force to get their heads straight and figure out how to buy a few helicopters.

  • John

    Ryan, so they were using Army flight medics inplace of PJ’s on the Pedro’s?

  • Mark Bigge

    If they’re looking for the best NV gear for their pilots, AI’s got a lot of sweet gen3 goggles…

  • PolicyWonk

    They should use Osprey’s for this task - much faster, longer range, etc.

    • Michael852

      You have got to be kidding! A kid with a bot action 22 could bring one of those down. They are way too fragile SaR or even standard med-evac missions.

      • tiger

        Want to count Chopper loses? Sorry, but choppers have no magic powers vs AA fire.

      • LoSul


  • majrod

    The biggest cause of this problem is USAF indecisiveness. Buying Pavehawk replacments is an easy fix. There is more to the problem than just the tired HH60s. Someone wants a new toy or the HH60s aren’t enough.

    MH47s are also a potential solution at a fraction of the cost of the CH53s.

    The Osprey would also be a great solution to this requirement because of its ability to get in and out quicker than a helo.

    • duck

      It is not possible to buy a new anything…even a new MH-60 (except maybe for a combat loss airframe)…without going through the acquisition process and getting the type of money that can buy new airframes, allocated and approved through the JROC. You can’t just replace them with the same type without going through the process they are going through.

  • J McKinney

    Former H60 rescue pilot- the mission is not easliy replaced by anyone. Yes everyone has H60s but not configured the same and manned with Para-Rescue.

    It looks easy from the oputside to just hand off the mission to the Army and they can do a respectable job of getting injured to definitive care. Unless othe rservices are goign to start carrying special forces trained personnel on all their recovery missions in battle zones you might think twice about saying lets just dump the AF Rescue.

    • R Smith

      Well said J. I used to fly with you up in Portland.

  • Dave

    Should of held on to the MH-53s….just sayin

  • tiger

    Still comes down to robbing Peter to pay for Paul. You can’t have new Fighters, Tankers or Coin planes & SAR Choppers at the same smaller DOD pie. Defense dollars are what the POTUS & Congress say they are.

  • ich

    Great discussion…again. Had the same conversations (just different airframes) in the early 80s (most of you won’t recall Initiative 17), the 90s (when CSAR went from MAC to the CAF to AFSOC to ACC-not necessarily I that order…gotta forgive my lack of recall on the gory details), the last decade (CSAR-X, PR-X, or whatever the nomme de diem was), and now this. Always an issue…and the AF (or Air Component) always “steps up” when it counts. Nobody can replace the USAF CSAR capabilty at a reasonable cost…and it’s a capability, when push comes to shove, that nobody is willing to let go away. So, like always, USAF will eventually find a way. We can only hope that old airframes, despite the yeoman efforts of our fantastic maintainers, don’t kill any of our outstanding crews in the meantime.

  • Pave Low CC

    I was a USAF helicopter crew chief for 20 years. The Air Force needs to submit a cost estimate on having the Pave Hawks zeroed out at Corpus Christi, TX depot. The Army Nat’l Guard is having their UH-60-A’s zeroed out on the entire airframe at Corpus. This would take time, but it would save a lot of money in the long run.

    • larry rosen

      submited a point paper while on a tour with the af reserve in the early 80″s for usaf hh1h and uh1n but was ignored.


    Crew Chief butts drive me nuts

  • Dre Beats Pro

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  • TM

    As a former Dustoff medic (80-89) involved with the old M.A.S.T. program, I can tell you that PJs can run circles around Army Flight Medics. Now I’m proud of my service and the Dustoff tradition, but the days of unarmed helos with red crosses and no guns is obselete and ridiculous. Care in combat is Trauma Care…peroid. Airway, stop bleeding, start IVs. which PJs are great at. Plus they can get to the patient anywhere. I say if the Army is serious about continuing the MEDEVAC mission, dump the red crosses, arm the ships, and train up the Flight Medics in tactics. The trouble is…(I’ll say it) the Army is stuck in this PC mind set that the bad guys honor the geneva convention…crazy. Not to mention they have to keep the career field (flight medic) open to women to appease the looney left wing.