By S.L. Fuller | December 22, 2017
U.S. Naval Air Systems Command (Navair) is adjusting acquisition strategies to field a replacement for the Sikorsky MH-60S gunner seat as quickly as possible. Navair said it hopes to do so by 2019.
"The existing MH-60S Seahawk Gunner Seat has directly contributed to medical groundings, degraded mission performance and a growing number of chronic back injuries among service members," said Capt. Dave Padula, PMA-202 program manager. Navair added that this issue has a top Helicopter Sea Combat community safety priority for several years and is now reached the No. 2 safety priority for all of naval aviation.
According to Navair, top Navy leadership looked to the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD)’s AIRWorks rapid prototyping team to expedite the replacement process. Within six months, Navair said the team had completed its initial design, using details based on existing performance specifications and supplemental fleet input. The concept design was completed by August 2016 and the first prototype was built by September.
"In addition to the seat design work, AIRWorks is providing program management, lead systems integration, engineering, test and logistics management support for this project," said Gerald Swift, director of NAWCAD AIRWorks. "We’re also fully engaged in the design/CAD drawing conversion, drafting and final material selection."
Concern with the existing Seahawk seat was voiced again during the flag panel at the Naval Helicopter Association (NHA) Symposium in May 2017, Navair said. In response, Rear Admiral DeWolfe Miller (OPNAV N98) said that he would fully fund a replacement program.
The following month, a follow-on formal acquisition effort was established to design, test, and build the next-generation gunner seat. It was then the goal to flight test a second prototype in March 2018. Navair said that in addition, a 10-person Gunner Seat Fleet Task Force was created to allow the fleet to provide real-time input during each step of the prototype's development.
"The MH-60S Gunner Seat prototype is a significant milestone," said Gary Kurtz, Navair assistant commander for Acquisition. "We are approaching a known, long-standing risk in an innovative way, and we are focused on trying to resolve this aircrew safety concern as quickly as we can. Feedback on the prototype helps ensure we are pointed in the right direction."