A serial of four CH-47 Chinook helicopters assigned to 6th Battalion, 101st General Aviation Support Battalion, 101st Combat Aviation Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) land in Mobile, Alabama, Sept. 11. The helicopters stage at the Mobile Regional Airport and were part of a contingency operation to support Hurricane Irma relief operations.
In discussing the U.S. National Guard Bureau's response to Hurricane Michael last week, U.S. Air Force Gen. Joseph Lengyel, chief of the National Guard Bureau, said the Guard needs more aviation assets, particularly Boeing CH-47 Chinooks, for on-call response to contingencies, including national disasters.
"Aviation is almost always a limiting factor," Lengyel told the Defense Writers Group in Washington, D.C. Oct. 12. "Hardly anyone has enough aviation assets to do it all themselves when it happens. That's been true across every single exercise and event, maybe with the exception of firefighting. It seems like the big states that have a lot of fires — California and the West Coast — seem to have enough organic, state assets, but they have to go out and contract for fire retardant and big aircraft that drop the fire retardant on the fires."
While the type of aircraft needed depends on the contingency, "highly coveted are the CH-47s, the heavy-lift helicopters," Lengyel said. "Not everybody has those. Most [states] have some organic [Lockheed Martin UH-60] Black Hawk or [Airbus UH-72] Lakota capability."
States are able to receive assets based on the types of disasters that occur most frequently, and neighboring states have agreements to share such assets. While such sharing helps during hurricanes, fires and ice storms, it may quickly run dry in massive disaster responses, Lengyel said.
"When you get to some of the other disasters we consider, like the Cascadia Subduction Zone, massive earthquakes and the like, then quickly we run out of medical capabilities or sometimes chemical/biological/radiological/nuclear response capabilities," he said. "We don't have a lot of that. We have some, but we could quickly use all of it and not have enough."
Guard search and rescues appear to have been limited in the Hurricane Michael response, as many evacuees were able to do so by vehicle. Lengyel said Oct. 12 that the Guard had 29 helicopters in service during the hurricane — a mix of CH-47s, UH-60s, HH-60s and UH-72 Lakotas — and that many transported commodities and generators to restore electrical power.
"The numbers of [Guard] aviation rescues have been relatively small," Lengyel said Oct. 12.
U.S. Coast Guard and civilian helicopters also deployed in the response to Hurricane Michael.