Tomorrow's naval environment can't be all rail guns and SSBN(X) and high-end unmanned fighter jets. No matter what kind of advanced equipment sails in the future fleet, there'll still be a role for the hard-working, often-overlooked naval helicopter, one pilot argued in an excellent piece Wednesday at Small Wars Journal. Lt. Cmdr. Benjamin “BJ” Armstrong writes that if the Navy is going to continue dealing with "irregular" threats at sea -- i.e. pirates -- as well as keeping its traditional blue water missions, there's no better bargain than its MH-60 helicopters and their crews.
The MH-60S Block III Armed Helo’s that now deploy with amphibious assault ships like BATAAN come in the gunship variant. These aircraft have a wide range of armament options that make it a highly capable platform. You can buy nearly a squadron of them for the cost of one Joint Strike Fighter. The crews that fly them like LT Lee Sherman, LT Chris Schneider, AWS2 Joey Faircloth, and AWS3 Josh Teague, are trained in a number of mission areas that lend themselves to maritime security operations and irregular warfare.Did you copy that, naval aviation leadership? For a single F-35C Lightning II, Armstrong argues you can get a batch of helicopters that will perform search and rescue, resupply the fleet at sea, help prosecute pirate takedowns -- among other missions. The motto of his unit, Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 28 Detachment 2, is "So that others may live ... or die."
But Hollywood never made an action movie about a Navy helicopter unit -- even though it should -- and rotary wing sailors evidently are worried they could lose out in the coming Big Crunch. Armstrong describes how valuable one of his unit's helicopters was during a counter-piracy operation, and he argues that Navy 60s and their crews must remain part of the picture if the fleet wants to stay at its most effective.
The operation to secure the M/V Caravos Horizon demonstrates the critical role of the amphibious fleet and rotary-wing aviation to maritime security and American policy around the world. It also reinforces the idea that the right platforms, purposely trained and led people, and strong global partnerships are central to success in naval irregular warfare and in the hybrid maritime conflicts that the United States Navy may face in the coming decades. It must be said that for each aircraft and pilot there are dozens of maintenance professionals and supporting personnel that make our Navy’s global reach possible. Maintainers are the bedrock of the rotary-wing team that successfully completed this mission.The good news for Armstrong is that the odds seem solid that no matter what happens to the surface fleet, the Navy will try to keep its helicopter units in proportion -- or, if it begins to cut ships, it could even keep many of its helicopter units and send more of them to sea to increase the range and power of a smaller fleet.