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Saturday, November 1, 2008

King for a Day — Kit for Saving Lives

MILITARY | SAR

I posed a question to the DUSTOFF crew during the course of the interview and it went like this: "If you were king for a day, what piece or pieces of kit would you ensure all medevac rescue crews had to make their lives easier?" The responses varied by aircrew duty and experience but here’s some of what they and other crews expressed that they’d like to see on their aircraft, deployed with ground teams or in their "go-bags."

External Hoist

Each member of the DUSTOFF crew believes that integration of an external electric or hydraulic hoist would be something that would make rescue operations faster and safer; especially in combat. The current internal hoist design puts the hoist operator in the way of bringing survivors and medics back into the cabin and takes up precious cabin floor space. In particular, internal hoists make bringing stokes litter patients into the cabin quite difficult to do smoothly and quickly. Designs exist for permanent and temporary external hoist integration on H-60 airframes with either hydraulic or electric hoist motors. Type 1 hoists, which cable feeds remain stationary, are growing faster in popularity than type 2 hoists, which cable guide traverses back and forth. More and more manufactures are abandoning hydraulic hoist installations and moving toward AC hoists if the aircraft’s electrical system is compatible. AC hoist performance curves (weight over speed plots) tend to show better speed performance at max weight than their DC counterparts. All in favor of more cabin space and easier hoist recoveries?

Conspicuous Covert Signaling Devices

While the preceding description may seem mutually exclusive, the need for signaling devices that draw attention of the rescue crews, and only the rescue crews, is still essential in these days of modern satellite navigation technology. The bottom line is that personal GPS receivers require batteries, are, with some exceptions, delicate, and in some terrain incapable of geolocating accurately enough for hoist pickup. Invariably, in the fog of war, the technological marvels never work when you need them most and a solid backup plan is necessary. A bright infrared programmable signal would be the ideal candidate that would have helped the crew’s wingman rapidly locate the team higher on the ridgeline. A programmable signal would allow teams to select a particular pattern to provide a level of authentication. This would prevent the standard multi-signal response to a radio query for, "Hey, when you hear me come around the ridgeline, turn on your IR strobe." The Powerflare (www.powerflare.com) is an ideal candidate for this task. IR and overt versions are available to assist crews in locating ground teams. This would have been the perfect tool for the crew or ground teams to use instead of vectors from the burning bush in Afghanistan. The crew had never heard of this type of device but took good notes with which to return to their units. Another very useful manual back up is the message dropper pouch with streamer. A U.S. Forest Service specification tool can be modified with an IR flasher or chemstick for deployment from a helicopter to ground teams whose radios have failed, for example, to direct their movement to a pickup site or a new coordination time for a pickup. The crew recommends that you buy some of each of these and throw them in your aircraft nav kit.

IR Floodlights from Overhead Assets

Each team member spoke of the benefit of the IR floodlight provided by the AC-130 gunship when overhead. "It turned a zero moon night into 100 percent illum," said SFC Rohrs. It was critical to mission success especially when their personal performance was waning from fatigue, extremely low illumination levels and dust. Thinking outside the box for a minute, it seems that some unmanned aerial vehicles currently used by all the services could easily be retrofitted with IR lasers whose beams could be optically scattered to provide a flood light for ground teams in need of immediate illumination support as a UAV tactic, technique and procedure to back up the AC-130s, which are in serious demand. More support for the ground troop from smart UAV modifications is a great alternative to using a very expensive gunship as a sophisticated flashlight.

Submachine-Gun Sized Personal Weapon for Medics/Pararescuers

Given the cumbersome nature of M-4s, GAU-5s and M-16s, the services responsible for putting teams on the ground with alternative insertion/extraction (AIE) devices might consider arming their folks with smaller, potent, submachine guns less likely to get damaged during the AIE operations. Several special operation teams are effectively equipped with such weapons specifically for their portability, durability and combat effectiveness.

Effective Team Radios and Helmet Headset Adapters

These will allow quiet and clear communications both on the aircraft and off. This necessitates an intercom system (ICS) plug adapter that can do double duty when either connected to the aircraft ICS or to the team radio. The benefit of this clear communication should be clear to everyone.

Covert/Overt Hoist Hook Bumper Lighting

The technology exists to light hoist hook bumpers for both the hoist operator’s visibility of the hook on its travel up and down, and for ground teams to find the hook when it’s on the ground.

Whether you’re an aircrewman on a rescue platform, a special operator in need of the right gear or a military staff officer, you probably know that procurement of these widgets is a bit difficult. Military procurement always starts with a requirement. So my advice to you is to establish the requirement with your sustainment or modernization acquisition chain and get the ball rolling to justify the funds and get the kit you need to do your mission properly.

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