Retired HH-3 helicopter pilot Roger “Sprout” Wentworth sent Lexington Institute a response to Loren Thompson’s September 20 blog posting about the Air Force’s search-and-rescue efforts. Wentworth raised a number of concerns that we thought were worth sharing with a broader audience, so the full text of his response is printed below. Wentworth speaks with considerable authority, because the “Jolly Green Giant” helicopter that he once piloted conducted some of the toughest combat rescue missions of the Vietnam War, flying deep into North Vietnamese airspace. It later performed similarly harrowing missions in many other theaters of operation.
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On Loren Thompson’s post, “Combat Search And Rescue: Air Force Chooses Low Cost Over High Capability,” I have a few comments:
I’m not sure it’s possible to shoehorn anymore assumptions, soundbytes and red herring analysis into a one page article than is done here. Facts mixed with misdirection seem to lend credibility to the commentary but really serve to confuse an already complex topic. While it appears to support the combat rescue warfighter, your post actually hurts his get-well plan because your analysis failed to get to any of the root causes and simply shotgun-blasted the symptoms.
Your discussion of the Pave Hawk’s overuse in theater ignores a bigger problem. Why are 2% of the deployed helicopter assets (USAF CSAR) doing 74% of the high risk missions? And, that OPTEMPO is being sustained by crews deployed at the highest dwell rate of any DoD helicopter unit; .89/1, more than three times the OSD-directed, sustainable dwell rate of 3/1. So is there a problem with force provisioning, and improved niche mission, high-end training in the sister services? Is there a problem with the Force Structure sizing in the USAF given the demand on its niche CSAR capabilities? Why not address those bigger and more systemic problems?
Your offhand and unsupported claim that the EH-101 is more survivable is amusing. Do you have access to the AW-101 live fire test and evaluation that proves the aircraft is more survivable than the Pave Hawk; a platform touted in Dr. Robert Ball’s seminal Fundamentals of Combat Aircraft Survivability as the most survivable helicopter ever built? It’s not likely that you have that access, the 101 has never undergone such testing, nor is its design more survivable than an H-60. In fact, its geographically-mapped vulnerable area is nearly twice the size of an H-60, and oh yeah, the fuel is stored in the floor making crash survivability after combat damage induced control loss, highly unlikely.
Whether the Pave Hawk is too small or range-constrained is a worthy debate. If you work in the back of an H-60 your perspective is it’s too small, if you’re being shot at it feels too large. Regarding range-constraints, the recent studies directed by RMD-802, conducted by JFCOM and the Air Staff found that the ranges required in the original Analysis-of-Alternatives (AoA) were far greater than historically, geographically, or operationally necessary. Those ranges have reportedly been decreased in the subsequent Recap Capabilities Development Document. Those same studies found that the requirement to carry the numbers of survivors documented in the original PRV and subsequent CSAR-X CDDs were excessive even when compared to the extraordinary utilization in theater currently. The bigger aircraft desired in those documents wasn’t justified in the historical record; it was in fact a wish list to appease the pararescuemens’ desire for a flying climate-controlled trauma center in the back of a rescue helicopter.
Your AoA discussion dismissed or purposely omitted the fact that Air Combat Command conducted an AoA in 1999 before the mission was temporarily adopted by AFSOC. That first AoA dismissed the V-22 for rescue for sound rationale: downwash (incompatible with rescue mission), terminal area survivability concerns, cost, lack of self defense, and high altitude hover performance. After the mission moved to AFSOC, the AFSOC/XPRV requirements office changed the PRV ORD/CDD to delete key performance parameters that excluded the V-22 because they had an axe to grind; they wanted more V-22s. So while you repeatedly tout the V-22 prowess, your lack of understanding of its rescue mission shortfalls is palpable.
Your callous dismissal of the real acquisition problems surrounding the CSAR-X protests is also suspicious. It wasn’t just lawyers that caused the problem. There was a clear and present problem with the requirements modification process (as documented in a POGO report a couple years ago) and the SPO’s evaluation analysis was flawed (a finding upheld by the GAO). Why not address the root causes here rather than the symptoms. A MAJCOM wanted certain capabilities and amended (some allege inappropriately so) documentation to procure those capabilities. Then the acquisition community within the AF (whose helicopter knowledge was reportedly infantile) porked away the evaluation, chose a helicopter that met AFSOC’s needs but didn’t meet the rescue mission’s needs and the program was killed for cause: evaluation analysis flaws. Ironically the aircraft they chose has now been documented in the DoD Rotorcraft Survivability report as 3.3 times more vulnerable to shootdowns based upon their record in Afghanistan. Interestingly, the senior leader purge you discussed was another of the problems. The strongest advocates for the CSAR mission EVER were evicted for their steadfast and righteous dedication to doing the right thing for the fighter, tanker, and CSAR communities. They were punished for their service loyalties and willingness to fall on their swords; a leadership trend wholly vacant in today’s AF.
And lastly, to your closing comments about the services desire to just get it done; if you were that over-taxed CSAR unit gone more than home, with aircraft readiness rates at all-time lows, driving deployment training readiness to NOT-combat mission ready levels, then you too would demand quicker service to replace your aircraft with more modern and reliable variants with (you omitted) better high /hot performance and avionics in a modified HH-60X based upon the UH-60M airframe. And lastly, you omitted the elephant in the room. Defense budget critics are desperately trying to employ partisan politics to shift defense spending to facilitate the health care initiatives currently underway. CSAR is being targeted as a model for acquisition efficiency reform initiatives in the Pentagon-those seeking the 80% solutions. Well Loren, 80% is the modern version of the Pave Hawk. And as a parting shot, USMC equipment updates do not make it a better service solution for future CSAR as many of the US Marines saved by the USAF CSAR “Pedros” of Afghanistan will attest.
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