Commander gives Navy airframe plan good review
NAVAL AIR FACILITY ATSUGI, Japan — The Navy’s plan to transform its helicopter force by ditching most of its current airframes will alter missions radically and help reduce maintenance and logistics problems, the commander of an Atsugi-based helicopter squadron said this week.
Over the next dozen years, every squadron in the fleet will be flying either the MH-60S or MH-60R Sea Hawk, Navy officials say. That means shrinking seven helicopter “communities,” as military aviators call them, to two.
“This is going to be a good thing for everyone. The battle group commanders will get more direct operational control over their air assets and everyone will be using a common airframe,” said Cmdr. Baxter Goodly, commander of the HS-14 “Chargers” squadron.
“The concept is a very good one. It will provide the carrier air wings with different assets and squadrons.”
And, according to the plan, it will make the Navy’s helicopter fleet a more potent offensive weapon.
“My personal opinion is that the Navy’s helicopter communities were behind in the power categories,” Goodly said. “Now they will all be armed with something more than torpedoes.”
Only in recent years have Navy helicopters been armed with Hellfire and Penguin missiles, Goodly said.
By the time the new plan is in place, Navy officials say roughly 500 helicopters — either the Sierra (MH-60S) or Romeo (MH-60R) variants of the Sea Hawk — will be spread among 30 squadrons.
Twenty of those squadrons will be assigned to carrier air wings; 10 will be expeditionary forces.
The Romeo squadrons, to be responsible for anti-sub and anti-surface warfare, will deploy in groups of 12 helicopters. The Sierra squadrons — to be tasked with combat search and rescue, special warfare and mine countermeasures — will deploy in groups of eight.
Currently, those missions are given to an amalgam of helicopters, including the UH-3H Sea King, CH-46D Sea Knight, HH-1N Huey and the MH-53E Sea Dragon.
All of the pilots and maintainers for those helicopters will be trained on either the Sierra or the Romeo, officials said.
“From a logistics standpoint, it makes a lot of sense to use two airframes instead of seven,” Goodly said. “The retraining and transitioning should not be that difficult.”
The Sierra already has passed its first operational deployment challenge. A detachment of Sierras from the Guam-based Helicopter Support Squadron (HC) 5 provided logistics support for the massive American fleet operating in the Arabian Sea early in the war with Iraq.
“The Sierras were there to provide the beans and bullets so the battle group could continue to operate,” said Cmdr. Rob Murphy, Sierra Air Vehicle Integrated Product Team leader, in a Navy news release. “Feedback has been very positive. Everybody loves the aircraft.”
According to the Navy, 40 Sierras now operate in three Helicopter Combat Support Squadrons, including HC-3, HC-5 and HC-6. Five other Sierras are assigned to Patuxent River, Md., for test and evaluation.
“We provided a helicopter to the fleet better, faster and cheaper, and it is highly common with the existing fleet of H-60s and the upcoming Romeo,” Murphy said.
The Naval Helicopter Transition Team, responsible for putting the plan into place by the year 2015, has not said how much the Navy would save in maintenance or training costs by flying only two airframes. But, Murphy said: “This saves an incredible amount of money and reduces the number and type of parts that need to be kept in supply.”
In coming years, the Sierras will be upgraded with a forward-looking infrared system, precision-guided munitions and an “integrated” self-defense package, Murphy said.