US Air Force eyes unmanned platforms for troop rescue in case of war with China

The current rescue helicopter HH-60W is "not particularly helpful in the Chinese" area of responsibility, says a US Air Force official.
Baba Tamim
HH60 Pave Hawk in action.
HH60 Pave Hawk in action.

Wikimedia Commons 

The US Air Force is looking into other methods of rescuing troops that do not include their present and future fleets of combat search and rescue helicopters. 

According to US officials, in the event of a battle with China, the present helicopters are unfit for use in the Indo-Pacific region, reported Defense One news website

While the Air Force currently operates 99 HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters for international search and rescue operations, it has begun switching to HH-60W Jolly Green II helicopters. 

However, the service reduced its planned purchase of 113 HH-60Ws to 75, which irritated Congress, which added an additional 10 HH-60Ws to the 2023 budget and passed legislation to keep the production line open.

On Wednesday, representatives of the Air Force went to Capitol Hill to argue for a different approach. The military is currently thinking of "non-traditional" ways to rescue soldiers in the event that they are needed, such as "unmanned platforms." 

The HH-60W is "not particularly helpful in the Chinese" area of responsibility, Lt. Gen. Richard Moore stated during a hearing of the Senate Armed Service airland subcommittee.

This is mostly due to the fact that the aircraft, which was constructed by Sikorsky, is not anticipated to be "survivable to the threat environment," according to Lt. Gen. James Slife, the service's deputy chief of staff for operations. 

"You end up losing more people trying to recover somebody than the person you lost, to begin with. And so the challenge we're facing is really how to address the question of how we will do personnel recovery in a contested environment."

HH-60Ws can still be used in the Pacific

According to Andrew Hunter, the Air Force's senior weapon buyer, the agency is moving to place the remaining HH-60W helicopters under contract with Sikorsky in the coming days. 

The 85 HH-60Ws in the fleet will be "more than sufficient" for the service's combat search and rescue requirements, according to Colonel Richard Moore, the deputy chief of staff for plans and projects for the service. While this is going on, other planes can undertake the easier task of personnel recovery. 

"There are literally thousands of platforms in the Department of Defense that can do personnel recovery. This fleet is for something very specific: it was purchased for Iraq and Afghanistan," Moore added. 

Officials from the Air Force stated that HH-60Ws can still be used in the Pacific, but it depends on the scenario and the threat. The service seeks a resolution that satisfies the ethical requirement of leaving no one behind, noted the Defense One report.

Earlier, the US DOD funded more than $8 million for 21 new delivery drones developed by Survice Engineering in collaboration with Malloy Aeronautics. 

The drone, TRV-150C, is "designed to provide rapid and assured, highly automated aerial distribution to small units operating in contested environments," Master Sergeant Chris Genualdi stated in a press release.