Saturday, April 1, 2006
Rationalizing the Fleet
With the first MH-60Rs delivered and the first MH-60S unit stood up, the U.S. Navy is advancing on its goal of simplifying rotary-wing operations by relying on those two platforms.
Look for the U.S. Navy's Helicopter Anti-Submarine Sqdn. Light 41 (HSL-41) and you may find its Web site, but not that name.
In March 2005, the "Seahawks" at NAS North Island, Calif. saw their unit redesignated Helicopter Maritime Strike Sqdn. 41 (HSM-41). They were not alone. Five other Navy helicopter squadrons and four helicopter wings had their designations changed last year. In January, Helicopter Combat Support Sqdn. 2 (HC-2) became expeditionary Helicopter Sea Combat Sqdn. 2 (HSC-2). Others will change next year through 2015.
The reason? The MH-60R and S, on which the Navy is simplifying helicopter operations, shifting to those two types from seven today. That is only the biggest of many changes ahead for Navy rotary-wing ops.
In December and January, the first four Sikorsky MH-60Rs were transferred to HSM-41, in preparation for initial operational capability to the fleet.
Sikorsky and Lockheed Martin, which as mission systems integrator for the MH-60R installs the mission equipment package on the next-generation submarine hunter and surface attack helicopter at its Owego, N.Y., are awaiting official word that the "Romeo" cleared a Milestone 3 review by the Pentagon's Defense Acquisition Board at the end of January. A successful review would clear the way for full-rate production and award of a Lot 4 contract to execute that production. Program officials expect to receive official word of a successful Milestone 3 review before the Navy League of the United States convenes its three-day Sea-Air-Space Exposition April 4 in Washington.
Also before that event begins, Sikorsky is expected to deliver the first new-production MH-60R to Lockheed Martin in Owego for mission-equipment integration. All previous MH-60Rs delivered to Lockheed Martin or the Navy have been remanufactured by Sikorsky to that configuration from Navy SH-60Bs.
The Navy is seeking $120 million in advanced procurement funding this year for the MH-60R. In its Fiscal 2007 budget, the service is seeking $795 million for 25 of the Romeos. The program of record calls for the Navy to buy a total of 254 aircraft through 2015.
Pilots and maintainers are to begin training on the MH-60R later this year, with the first carrier-based squadron beginning training in Fiscal 2007. A second squadron is to transition from the SH-60B to the MH-60R in Fiscal 2008 and deploy to a carrier in late Fiscal 2009.
By 2013, the Navy plans to have one MH-60R and one MH-60S squadron operating from each aircraft carrier. The service will then begin to transition expeditionary squadrons, the first of which is to be capable in Fiscal 2011 and deploy in Fiscal 2013 in support of cruisers and destroyers.
The Navy is conducting analysis on rotor-wing requirements to operate the MH-60R from the Littoral Combat Ship.
The Director, Operational, Test & Evaluation Fiscal 2005 Annual report deemed the MH-60R effective and suitable, noting that there is an increase in capability over legacy aircraft.
The Romeo's sister aircraft, the Sierra, will be a key component of the Navy's Littoral Combat Ship. The aircraft will eventually be deployed with mine-hunting systems to detect and neutralize mines.
According to Sikorsky, the MH-60S is an amalgam of its UH-60L Black Hawk and the SH-60B. The Black Hawk airframe provides the larger cabin volume and features required for cargo and passenger transport. The Seahawk contributes the capabilities required to operate aboard ship. MH-60S missions include vertical replenishment, combat search and rescue, special-warfare support and airborne mine countermeasures, where it will be outfitted with a variety of systems to further serve the fleet.
The MH-60S, like the MH-60R, is to carry Hellfire missiles. Block 3A aircraft are to receive numerous upgrades this year, including Hellfire laser-guided anti-armor missiles and aircraft survivability equipment. The Navy plans to buy 126 armament kits for both the Romeo and Sierra.
The MH-60S is also seen as a possible alternative to the Navy's HV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor for search and rescue, should the service decrease the number of V-22 it plans to buy.
The Navy intends to buy upwards of 270 MH-60S
The Navy has not yet fully defined the V-22's naval role. The program of record calls for 48 aircraft that could be used for search and rescue and logistics support. The current aircraft purchase calls for the Navy to procure their Ospreys at the end of the Marine Corps' and Air Force's buys.
The U.S. presidential helicopter program has two test aircraft currently in service. Civil 01 is conducting integration tests on the fully developed General Electric engine, and Test Vehicle-1 is at NAS Patuxent River conducting pilot, maintainer, logistics and engineering familiarity training.
VH-71 is in the midst of a $1.9-billion system design and development (SDD) phase. The program received $922 million in Fiscal 2006 and the Navy has requested $683 million in Fiscal 2007.
The program of record is for 23 operational aircraft. The Navy plans to buy three more test aircraft that are to be assembled late this year and delivered to Lockheed Martin early next year.
Initial operating capability for VH-71 is set for October 2009. It is to include five Increment 1 aircraft. Increment 2 is to begin production in 2008 and reach IOC in 2011. At that point, all Increment 1 aircraft would be retrofitted to match up with the Increment 2 variant.
The full fleet of Increment 2 aircraft should be fully operational in 2015.
The current VH-71s are operating with upgraded 2,500-shp GE CT7-8E engines. Increment 2 is to get an improved, 3,000-shp CT7-8C engines.
The Navy is requesting $37.6 million for four MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned aerial systems (UAS). Each is to include three of the Northrop Grumman unmanned rotorcraft based on the Schweizer Aircraft 333 turbine helicopter.
In January, a Fire Scout completed nine autonomous takeoffs and landings on the USS Nashville operating off of the NAS Pax River. The Navy and Northrop Grumman plan shortly to begin testing the RQ-8A Fire Scout aboard the service's High Speed Vessel 2. These tests will be a more sophisticated concept of operations to test Fire Scout's compatibility with that ship.
The RQ-8A is being used to reduce risk on the next iteration the MQ-8B. It is designed to carry a 200-lb. intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance payload and nothing else. The upgraded MQ-8B will not only have an increase payload (600 lb.) but changes to its main rotor, transmission, fuel capacity and sponsons make it possible for the MQ-8B to carry weapons and supplies.
The MQ-8B is to undergo its first flight in May and enter operational evaluation in 2008, followed by initial operating capability in late 2008. The MQ-8B is to eventually deploy from the Littoral Combat Ship.
The program of record calls for three Fire Scouts to be stationed on that ship in place of one MH-60S.
The first 12 airframes for the MQ-8B variant arrived in Moss Point, Miss. Northrop Grumman is building four for the Navy and eight for the Army at its facility there.