Home Air US Air Force’s new HH-60W combat rescue helicopter starts operational trials

US Air Force’s new HH-60W combat rescue helicopter starts operational trials

Jolly Green II combat search and rescue helicopter
A HH-60W Jolly Green II prepares to take off from Duke Field on March 22, 2022. Photo: US Air Force

The US Air Force’s HH-60W Jolly Green II has begun operational testing after the last of the service’s new combat search and rescue helicopter departed Duke Field, Fla. signaling the end of initial developmental testing.

At the same time, the helicopter entered the Operational Test phase, which will be led by the 88 Test Evaluation Squadron at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada.

The 88 TES has been engaged with the new combat rescue helicopter since the inception of the program, supporting developmental testing and enabling early operational evaluations to take place while the HH-60Ws were stationed at Duke Field.

“The departure of the last HH-60W from Duke Field is a significant milestone for 413 FLTS and the entire Combat Rescue Helicopter program,” said Lt Col Andy Burns, 413 FLTS operations officer. “I am proud of the accomplishments and professionalism of the entire combined test team, and we couldn’t have accomplished any of it without our partners from ACC. While it is bitter-sweet to see the helicopter depart, I am really excited to see the HH-60W program transition to the Combat Search and Rescue Combined Test Force for the next phase in its development.”

The first step for the 88 TES following the arrival of the HH-60W is to build proficiency in the airframe. By understanding the aircraft and its capabilities, the squadron will be able to develop tactics that take the most advantage of the aircraft’s capabilities.

“One of the most important new capabilities, and the thing that we will be developing the most Tactics, Techniques and Procedures towards, is the ability to integrate on a digital level in a way we previously have not,” said Lt Col Keith Craine, 88 TES commander. “It allows us to more effectively use the capabilities of other U.S. Air Force assets to collect information on isolated personnel and penetrate more heavily-defended areas.”

The first OT event that the HH-60W will participate in is Black Flag, where the aircraft will be evaluated on its ability to integrate with the Combat Air Force that it is tasked to support. The lessons learned and tactics developed in Black Flag will go a long way towards realizing the increased combat capability offered by the HH-60W.

The US Air Force announced the OT milestone for the helicopter after revealing in its fiscal 2023 budget proposal that it would cut the planned number of helicopters it would buy to 75, from the originally planned 108 units. This would effectively reduce the number of helicopters to be procured by one-third. The service argues that the helicopters, initially envisioned as operating in relatively uncontested airspace like the one in Afghanistan, would not be as effective operating in contested airspace in a potential fight with a near-peer adversary.

Based on the UH-60M Black Hawk and customized for the US Air Force’s rescue mission, the HH-60W helicopter is replacing the HH-60G Pave Hawk model.