The Combat Rescue Helicopter, designed by Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin company, will perform critical combat search and rescue and personnel recovery operations for all U.S. military services. Image courtesy of Sikorsky
Sikorsky is eyeing a proposed nine-squadron increase in U.S. Air Force rescue squadrons — an increase, which, if funded, could mean an additional 20 to 30 rotor air frames beyond the 112 currently planned HH-60Ws.
Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson outlined the proposed increase in her speech at the Air Force Association annual conference this week. The Air Force vision calls for a total of 386 operational squadrons in the service to meet the new national defense strategy, issued by the presidential administration in January.
The 112 HH-60Ws are to replace the aging fleet of HH-60G Pave Hawks, which have suffered attrition and combat losses. Pave Hawks play an important role in combat search and rescue (CSAR) and personnel recovery for all the services.
Final assembly of the first HH-60W Combat Rescue Helicopter at Sikorsky's plant in Stratford, Connecticut, has begun, and the aircraft is to move to the Sikorsky test facility in West Palm Beach, Florida, next month, said Tim Healy, director of the Sikorsky Combat Rescue Helicopter Program. First flight is expected in the first quarter of next year, and Sikorsky expects data delivery on the aircraft by early 2019 with an Air Force award to follow soon thereafter.
"The force really needs this new platform," said Healy, a former Air Force CSAR pilot of HH-60Gs in Afghanistan.
Air Force CSAR personnel have had a high operational tempo, and the so-called "dwell to deploy" time for personnel has been about one-to-one "for decades," he said.