YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — The U.S. Navy announced a host of changes to the USS George Washington’s carrier air wing Friday, in what amounts to at least the third significant Navy airframe upgrade in the Asia-Pacific region this year.
The HSL-51 Warlords squadron at Naval Air Facility Atsugi will swap their SH-60B and SH-60F Seahawk helicopters for newer MH-60S and MH-60R Seahawks, officials from Commander Naval Forces Japan said Friday.
Atsugi also will gain the HSM-77 Saberhawks squadron, which flies MH-60s, from the USS Abraham Lincoln’s carrier air wing at Naval Air Station North Island, Calif.
Additionally, North Island’s HSC-12 Golden Falcons will swap places with Atsugi’s HS-14 Chargers. The duty station changes and aircraft swap preparation will begin Tuesday and be complete by December 2013, Navy officials said.
The new helicopters are designed to handle submarine and surface warfare, cargo lifts, search-and-rescue and other missions, according to Navy documents and manufacturer Sikorsky’s website.
The changes are part of a master aviation plan devised by the Navy to place its most advanced assets in what it refers to as forward-deployed regions. Of those forward-deployed areas, the Pentagon and the Obama administration have singled out the Asia-Pacific region as their highest long-term priority.
The net addition of one helicopter squadron will lessen a load placed on other aircraft since the VS-21 helicopter squadron departed Japan eight years ago.
“The squadron that left in 2004 was never replaced, so the P-3s and other [anti-submarine warfare] assets worked overtime to fill in,” Commander Naval Forces Japan spokesman Jon Nylander said Friday.
Although the P-3 Orion aircraft are based in Hawaii and two other U.S. locations, they are frequently deployed to Japan to monitor regional waters. The upgraded P-8 Poseidon aircraft will replace the P-3 Orion within the next year, Navy officials told Stars and Stripes in August.
The Navy in Japan also replaced its EA-6B Prowlers with EA-18G Growler electronic warfare jets earlier this year.
The new helicopters are unlikely to produce the uproar that greeted the deployment of the Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey hybrid aircraft to Japan in July. The tilt-rotor aircraft, designed to replace the Marines’ aging Sea Knight helicopters, has faced widespread opposition in Okinawa based on safety concerns, though military and Japanese officials maintain that the Osprey is mechanically sound.