Top Air Force officials last week made it clear that they want to merge the efforts to buy a new fleet of rescue choppers and utility helos to patrol the nation's ICBM fields and ferry VIPs around Washington, D.C.
Right now the service uses a fleet of roughly 20 year-old HH-60 Pave Hawks to fly what can be extremely demanding combat search and rescue missions around the globe and Vietnam war-vintage UH-1N Hueys to patrol the missile fields. IT desperately wants to replace both fleets. Here's what Air Force Secretary Michael Donley said about the matter during a House Armed Services Committee hearing last week:
"We're currently looking for the requirement for a future CSAR program in conjunction with the HH-60 loss replacement program that's been underway during the current conflicts and also the replacement of UH-1 capabilities across the Air Force, in particular in support of the missile fields in the nuclear mission and a few other UH-1 units across the Air Force. Our goal is to get those requirements aligned so that we can get a cost-effective solution to our vertical lift challenge in all of those areas."While this has been suspected for some time, this was the first time I've heard them say it out in the open. If you remember, the service had wanted to develop an ultra-badass rescue chopper under the cancelled CSAR-X debacle in the last decade. Now, the Air Force just wants to buy a fleet of existing helicopters and outfit them with the equipment needed for the combat search and rescue mission or the less taxing mission of patrolling missile fields.
Here's what Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz said about that during the hearing:
"Our goal is to approach this as a minimally developmental effort, in other words to procure a vertical lift capability that is largely off the shelf that we could modify to do the combat rescue mission, rescue hoist and so on, as well as the nuclear site support mission which would need fewer modifications. Fundamentally, this approach, as opposed to CSAR-X which was a highly developmental effort, is looking at being less ambitious and approaching this as a minimally developmental effort.Here's the info on what the service wants for its missile patrol fleet.
Sounds pretty simple and straightforward, right? The Air Force needs new choppers, so why can't it go buy something it knows can get the job done? Don't tell that to some members of the defense industry.