The same day that the world had to confront a new level of barbarism from ISIS in its latest snuff video, it was also revealed that the coalition against this abomination which the Obama Administration had so painstakingly built had developed a gaping hole. One of only four Arab nations participating in the coalition, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) had withdrawn its combat jets from the fight. According to multiple sources, the UAE did so back in December after the Jordanian pilot was captured. The problem was not opposition to fighting fellow Muslims. Nor was it any disagreement over coalition strategy. And this decision was not based on lack of aircraft, pilots or weapons. The reason given was insufficient planning and a dearth of capabilities to rescue downed pilots. The government of the UAE judged, probably correctly, that having a pilot captured by IS was politically unacceptable to its people.
The mission of finding and rescuing downed pilots is called Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR). It is a highly orchestrated endeavor, involving specially equipped and trained forces. The key to success in CSAR is the ability to locate and extract the downed personnel rapidly before hostile forces can find them. This requires, in particular, the ability to communicate with downed personnel and to get a rescue platform to them, generally one that can land. Typically, a CSAR mission will include combat aircraft to suppress any hostile forces, aerial refueling tankers and command and control platforms.
The U.S. Air Force is the lead service for CSAR and really the best in the world. The primary platform for conducting CSAR is the HH-60G Pave Hawk, a variant of the very successful Black Hawk helicopter. Air Force Special Forces operate its own version of the Pave Hawk, the MH-60G, that it can employ for the rescue of Special Forces personnel. CSAR platforms are also used for medical evacuations.
The HH-60G was first flown in 1981 and the fleet has aged badly over the past 34 years. Less than 100 aircraft remain flyable. Last year, the Air Force made what in hindsight is looking like a very wise decision to begin replacing the Pave Hawks with a new version of the Black Hawk, the HH-60W. According to reports, the decision to fund the HH-60W in the FY2015 Air Force budget came down to the wire, an audible call.
According to the New York Times, the UAE stated an interesting and very specific condition for the return of its pilots to the fight. “The United Arab Emirates are demanding that the Pentagon improve its search-and-rescue efforts, including the use of V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, in northern Iraq, closer to the battleground, instead of basing the missions in Kuwait, administration officials said. The country’s pilots will not rejoin the fight until the Ospreys, which take off and land like helicopters but fly like planes, are put in place in northern Iraq.”
Why the V-22? Because it can fly like an airplane but land like a helicopter. With its speed and range it can get to the location of a downed pilot faster than a conventional helicopter. It can also carry a larger payload, meaning more soldiers to assist in the rescue or more downed personnel extracted. While the majority of V-22s are operated by the Marine Corps, a smaller number are in the hands of Air Force Special Operations Forces. These CV-22s have additional capabilities that could make them particularly effective in the CSAR role.
CSAR is more than just one mission among many for the U.S. Air Force. It is a matter of the commitment by the military services to the men and women they ask to fly into hostile airspace. U.S. air units do not go into combat without having CSAR capabilities available. In the recent past, limits on the availability of CSAR assets have put restrictions on U.S. air operations in the global war on terror. This is one of the main reasons why the program to acquire the HH-60W is so important.
It is not surprising that our allies would demand that the United States provide the best CSAR capabilities as a condition for their participation in the anti-ISIS coalition. Given that coalitions of the willing look to be the new normal in fighting unconventional threats, it is a good thing that the U.S. military has the V-22 and, soon, will have the HH-60W to perform this mission.
Find Archived Articles: