New Marine helicopter squadron activated in Hawaii
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser
HONOLULU — Two new types of Marine helicopters were outlined against Kaneohe Bay on the flight line Monday as the service activated Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 367, which goes by the call sign "Scarface."
The four UH-1Y Hueys and five AH-1W Super Cobras — with about 190 Marines and sailors — are the first of 27 Hueys and Cobras expected to arrive over the next couple of years, officials said.
Made famous during the Vietnam War, Hueys and Cobras have been updated by the Marines, while the Army decades ago shifted to the Black Hawk for transport and the Apache for attack.
"Because the Cobra and Huey are combat-proven, it's pretty hard to beat that team, through Vietnam and continually upgrading it up to and including the latest attack helicopter we have, the AH-1Z," said squadron commander Lt. Col. Victor Maduka.
A Marine Corps environmental study said the number of takeoffs and landings at the Kaneohe Bay airfield is expected to increase 49 percent by 2018 compared with a 2009 baseline level of activity, as the Corps and Navy update aging aircraft and add new capability in a reflection of Hawaii's growing importance in the Pacific.
Plans call for basing 18 Navy P-8A Poseidon submarine-hunting jets at Kaneohe Bay, 24 Marine Corps MV-22 tilt-rotor Ospreys, 18 AH-1 Super Cobra and/or Viper attack helicopters, and nine UH-1 Huey transports, officials said previously.
The helicopter and Osprey basing are expected to bring about 1,000 active-duty personnel and 1,106 dependents to Kaneohe Bay, an environmental impact statement said.
Officials previously said the first P-8A Poseidons would come to Hawaii in 2015 and that the basing plan had one squadron of 12 Ospreys arriving in 2014 and the second in 2015. Annual flights would jump to 79,000 by 2018 from 53,000 in 2009 under the plan.
Brig. Gen. Christopher Owens, commander of the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing in Okinawa, Japan, which oversees the Kaneohe Bay helicopters, noted Monday the U.S. military "re-balancing" to Asia and the Pacific.
"Even while combat is still going on in the Middle East, we must start paying more attention to what's going on in the Pacific," he said. "There is much to do here."
Marine Aircraft Group 24 at Kaneohe Bay is undergoing "a complete transformation," Owens said.
Aging CH-53D Sea Stallion helicopters that used to be at Kaneohe Bay have been retired. One squadron with 12 newer CH-53E Super Stallion heavy lift helicopters remains.
In addition to the helicopters and Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, Owens said an unmanned aerial vehicle squadron will arrive in Hawaii at the end of next year.
"So a lot of things are happening, and we're seeing in the Pacific (area of responsibility) … the first fruits of that borne out right here in Hawaii," Owens said.
Marine Corps Base Hawaii did not provide the type of unmanned aerial vehicles expected here.
"Currently, Marine Corps Base Hawaii is in preliminary planning stages for the development of proposed action and alternatives for an unmanned aerial vehicle environmental assessment," the base said in an email. "The specific details about the proposed action and alternatives are not available at this time. We anticipate having more information about the proposed action and alternatives later this fall."
Owens said in just over a year, the "Scarface" squadron would send a detachment to the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, which operates out of Okinawa.
"That may sound like a long time, but given where they are now and all the things that have to be done in the next year, it's going to be a full-up challenge," he said.
The new Marine helicopters specialize in close-air support and are closely integrated with ground forces.
"It's going to make us all a little more proficient," said Maduka, squadron commander.
Hawaii-based infantry Marines have had to rely on other units coming to Hawaii or go elsewhere to team up with that helicopter support, he said.
Maduka said the helicopters will train a lot with infantry Marines at Pohakuloa Training Area on Hawaii island.
Prior to moving to Hawaii, the "Scarface" squadron was at Camp Pendleton, Calif., and from there it supported Operations Desert Storm, Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, the Corps said.