The Coast Guard could buy new Sikorsky H-60 helicopters to replace its fleet of MH-60 Jayhawks. (Coast Guard)
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WASHINGTON — The Coast Guard could buy new Sikorsky H-60 helicopters or upgrade divested military aircraft to eventually replace its existing fleet of Jayhawk aircraft, the service’s commandant said on Tuesday.
Coast Guard officials have been watching the Air Force’s acquisition of new combat search-and-rescue (CSAR) helicopters and could buy the same aircraft at some point down the road, Adm. Robert Papp told the Defense Writers Group during a breakfast meeting here.
“We’ll be watching the Air Force and seeing what they do in terms of decisions on their CSAR helicopter, and ultimately at some point, we’ll probably follow their lead in terms of replacement for the H-60,” Papp said.
The Air Force plans to replace its old HH-60G Pave Hawks in the coming years with new Sikorsky H-60s. The Air Force could award Sikorsky — the only bidder in the service’s Combat Rescue Helicopter program competition — a contract for the new aircraft by the end of June.
The Coast Guard operates 35 Sikorsky MH-60 Jayhawks, according to a fact sheet.
“At whatever time we decide to start replacing the H-60s, we can’t do it on our own,” Papp said. “The reason we were able to afford H-60s is because the Air Force and the Navy and the Army were buying them, and we could get economy of scale there and we could take some hand-me-downs and ... turn them into brand new aircraft, basically.”
The Coast Guard’s helicopter fleet is in good condition, particularly due to the quality of logistics and upgrade work, Papp said. The organization’s fleet of H-60s and Airbus MH-65 Dolphins is “good for probably another 15 years in terms of rotary-wing aircraft,” he said.
Integrating the C-27J
The Coast Guard also is integrating 14 former Air Force Alenia Aermacchi C-27Js into its fixed-wing airlift fleet.
The twin-engine C-27Js were divested by the Air Force last year. Papp said those planes will probably not be operational until 2016, since the Coast Guard has to train a cadre of pilots.
“Initially, we really don’t have to do much more than paint them,” Papp said.
The aircraft have all of the necessary military communications gear and a surface-search radar. The Coast Guard eventually wants to install a sensor package on the plane similar to what is used on its other fixed-wing aircraft, the Airbus HC-144 and Lockheed Martin C-130J, Papp said.
“We can put that aircraft [the C-27J] to work almost immediately after we get the people trained up on it and the laydown of the aircraft,” he said.
Coast Guard officials are developing an aviation plan that will determine basing specifics for its airlift fleet of HC-144s, C-27Js and C-130Js, Papp said.
The Coast Guard will probably not buy any new HC-144s, Papp said. The organization operates 18 Ocean Sentry aircraft.