The US Air Force has declared initial operational capability (IOC) for its next-generation combat rescue helicopter, the HH-60W Jolly Green II.
Gen. Mark Kelly, commander of Air Combat Command, declared the IOC for the helicopter on October 4, which means that the service now possesses sufficient HH-60Ws, logistics requirements and trained airmen to support a 30-day deployment to any independent location with a package of four aircraft.
The platform reached the latest milestone after starting operational trials in March this year, and eight years after Lockheed received the first contract for the helicopter’s development.
The US Air Force received its first Jolly Green IIs with the arrival of the first two airframes to the 23rd Wing and 347th Rescue Group at Moody Air Force Base in November 2020.
The 23rd Wing at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia, one of the first locations to receive the HH-60W, held a ceremony to mark the declaration on Sept. 9.
“The airmen of the 23rd Wing have done a tremendous job working with partners to get this aircraft combat ready on time,” said Col. Russ Cook, 23rd Wing commander. “Bottom line, the future of Air Force Rescue is secure, and our team is ready to recover anybody, anytime, anywhere, against any adversary.”
“This declaration is a vote of confidence from US Air Force leadership and demonstrates the critical role of and need for the HH-60W,” said Nathalie Previte, vice president, Sikorsky Army & Air Force Systems. “Sikorsky is committed to continuing deliveries of the Department of Defense’s only dedicated combat search and rescue (CSAR) helicopter and to provide the most capable platform to rescue crews who depend on this aircraft day-in and day-out to conduct vital life-saving missions.”
To date, Sikorsky has delivered 24 aircraft to the Air Force, including all EMD and Lot 1 aircraft. Lot 2 deliveries, comprised of 12 aircraft, began in June of this year. Sikorsky has been awarded four production lots to date, most recent recently Lot 4 for 14 aircraft in February 2022. Lockheed expects the Air Force to award a contract for Lot 5 for an additional 10 or more aircraft in 2023.
The HH-60W is significantly more capable and reliable than its predecessor, the HH-60G Pave Hawk. The aircraft hosts a new fuel system that nearly doubles the capacity of the main fuel tank on a UH-60M Black Hawk to 644 gallons, giving the Air Force crew extended range and more capability to rescue those injured in the battle space.
The HH-60W specification drives more capable defensive systems, vulnerability reduction, weapons, cyber-security, environmental, expanded adverse weather sensor capabilities, and more comprehensive net-centric requirements than currently held by the HH-60G.
The US Air Force originally planned to buy 108 of the helicopters but this number was reduced to 75, according to the service’s fiscal 2023 budget proposal. The service explained 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.