Rescue Chopper Rumble


The struggling CSAR-X program continues to muddle through its legal challenges and contract re-bidding. Others have covered this story in much greater depth than we have here at Defense Tech, but as issues pop up, well update readers on the latest tid bits.

One such issue emerged today after reading an outstanding feature story in the Washington Post on the rescue of SEAL Petty Officer 1st Class Marcus Luttrell who survived a June 2005 Taliban ambush that wiped out the rest of his team.

Buried deep in the story is this passage:

Planners first considered sending a Chinook to get Luttrell, while Peterson's HH-60 would wait five miles away to evacuate casualties. But the smaller HH-60, the planners concluded, could navigate the turns approaching Sabray more easily than a lumbering Chinook.

So in one of the highest-profile rescues of the Afghan war, Air Force PJs opted for the smaller, nimbler HH-60 to pluck Luttrell out of a remote village ringed by Taliban guerrillas. Yet the Air Force picked a variant of the twin-rotor Chinook to replace its fleet of HH-60 Pave Hawks.

A few days ago, DT got word of a letter to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) written by a former AFSOC commander wondering why the Army picked the heavy-lift CH-47 to replace the medium-lift Pave Hawk.

It is my understanding that the HH-47 was awarded the contract largely on the basis of its advantage over the US101 and S92 in range and payload. That is to utterly miss the point of combat rescue. First, unrefueled range is a non-issue in the age of helicopter air-to-air refueling.

Second, above and beyond the ability to carry a basic crew, defensive armament, limited armor protection, and a reasonable number of survivorswhich all three contenders can dopayload is not a critical issue for a CSAR helicopter and never has been. The HH-47's advantage in payload is a direct reflection of its size, and size is a liability not an advantage.

wrote Dr. John F. Guilmartin, Jr., a distinguished Air Force rescue pilot and AFSOC commander.

The HH-47's liabilities extend beyond size and lack of agility. It has more violent rotor downwash than the other contenders, a reflection of its weight and tandem rotor design. Partly in consequence, it is far more susceptible to brownout (a lethal condition in which pilots lose visual contact with the ground during landing or takeoff due to dust and dirt blown aloft by rotorwash). The combination of violent downwash and interaction between the counter-rotating columns of descending air from its two lifting rotors make it a poor platform for rescue hoist operations, the bread and butter of sea rescue and overland combat aircrew recovery. It has a significantly higher vibration level than the other contenders, a matter of serious concern in terms of crew fatigue. The fields of fire of its defensive armament are significantly more constricted than those of the other contenders. Its aural signature is significantly greater, affording the enemy more warning on low altitude ingress. Lastly, it requires a much larger landing zone than the other contenders, seriously constricting its use in urban areas and from shipboard (the thought of having had to conduct the Saigon evacuation, in which I participated, with H-47s is truly frightening).

Guilmartin added.

Sources tell DT Guilmartin may have something here. Most observers were astonished that the 47 was picked over the Lockheed Martin/Augusta-Westland US101 and the Pratt-Whitney/Sikorsky S-92. But others saw the writing on the wall.

Im not sure what happened with CSAR-X, but the scuttlebutt has it that General Brown and the Army C-47 lobby got to the USAFperhaps a quid pro quo for LCA, for Predator orbits, who knows. But, it was a very, very odd selection and choice. You should see the pictures of C-47 brownout compared to the other two, both of which have specific rotor designs that cause a doughnut of clear ground around the chopper that would actually help a rescue by obscuring the helo and the downed pilot from the enemy if they were close-by.

The C-47 decision seems odd, because somehow the old C-47 mafia (including Brown) somehow got their way at the 11th hour (the C-47 wasnt even a competitor until late, which also has an aroma about it).

Another AFSOC veteran tells DT:

I think the bigger issue is who flies helos? If the Army flies them then we should expect that they will be misused and shot down more often. Simple matter of different cultures, training and what kind of competency the crew has

If we really transform, who needs CSAR. It will be done by UAVs.

And on the UAV issue, our first source adds

UAVs were proposed for CSAR in Vietnam - the Navys drone anti-submarine helicopter (DASH) which flew operationally from destroyers and frigates from about 1964 to 1971. The last of the DASH test articles made its final flight recently. They were great little machines and the Navy grossly mismanaged their operational employment, and they were replaced in the 1970s by LAMPS (now the SH-60 Mark III Seahawk).

Sikorsky and Lockheed Martin continue to fight the Air Force on its choice, blasting the service for its tepid revision of the request for proposals mandated by the Government Accountability Office.

Its unclear when and how this will all shake out. While the momentum seems to favor the Boeing bird, the two competitors arent giving up quite yet.

-- Christian

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