View Full Version : 171 helos needed for search and rescue, study says

10-03-2009, 06:44 PM
By Bruce Rolfsen


Air Force combat search and rescue should grow — not shrink as Defense Secretary Robert Gates has suggested, a new study concludes.

The Air Force needs 171 rescue helicopters to meet the requests of the service and joint combatant commanders, according to a report by the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency.

The agency, part of U.S. Joint Forces Command, helps coordinate rescue training and equipment needs across the services. The report was done as part of an ongoing review of the Defense Department’s rescue forces.

The recommendation is a boost to the Air Force rescue community after Gates canceled the CSARX helicopter program in April and questioned whether the military needed a large number of troops and aircraft set aside for search and-rescue missions. Many airmen wondered if their mission would be turned over to another service.

The agency looked at the CSAR capabilities of the four services’ conventional units as well as Air Force Special Operations Command and Army Special Operations Command.

The 11 areas looked at included the training of medics, communications gear, night operations, ability to launch a mission on short notice, urban operations and capability to rescue people trapped at high altitudes.

The Air Force got the highest scores in seven categories and second place in three. Army special operations ranked second with a pair of first places and seven second places. Conventional Army and Marine units got their top scores for urban operations because the services’ ground forces figured into the equations. The Navy did best with its abilities to rescue people with hoists.

The report concludes that each service needs a rescue capability as a quick response force, from carrier based Navy helicopters responding to an aircrew in the water to Army medical evacuation helicopters flying out wounded soldiers.

However, the services depend on each other in extreme conditions, such as mountaintop rescues.

“There is no single service solution to recovery of isolated personnel,” the report states.

As an example, the study cites ongoing operations in Afghanistan, where Air Force Pave Hawks often get the call to fly night missions to evacuate wounded soldiers because the helicopters have sophisticated navigation gear — forward-looking infrared cameras and terrain-avoidance radar — and door-mounted machine guns. Army helicopters are unarmed and have only limited night operations capability.

The report is far from the final word in the Pentagon CSAR debate. The Joint Staff and Gates’ advisers will have their say, and the ongoing Quadrennial Defense Review could address the rescue mission as well.

Joint Forces Command refused to discuss the report because it was written for Pentagon officials, a command spokesman said. Pentagon officials would not discuss the report either.