One day earlier this year, the Coast Guard air station in Miami received a mayday call. But, because of maintenance problems — mainly due to age, wear and tear, and parts shortages – not one of the station’s eight HU-25 Guardian patrol aircraft was able to launch. An HH-65 short-range Dolphin helicopter responded but was unable to search as quickly or as large an area. On the same day, an HU-25 training flight and a law-enforcement patrol were also canceled.
The amazing thing is that this isn’t happening more often, given the age and condition of the Coast Guard’s aircraft. The aircraft require more and more maintenance at a time when the Coast Guard is being called upon to carry out an increasing number of missions and is required to cover more area more rapidly. But it will take more than spare parts to keep the Coast Guard’s aircraft capable.
The service needs new aircraft that give it the range and speed required to do the job, especially search and rescue missions. The HV-609 tiltrotor is one possible solution for the service. The smaller cousin of the MV-22 Osprey, the HV-609 would give the Coast Guard stronger legs, a longer reach and better survivability for search-and-rescue missions. The HV-609 could replace both the service’s helicopters and perhaps the HU-25 Guardian jet, which would streamline maintenance and logistics costs.
New aircraft are expensive, and the Coast Guard’s entire annual budget adds up to less than one day’s worth of federal spending. But as this incident points out, any further delay in modernizing the Coast Guard’s assets potentially risks lives.
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