The US Air Force (USAF) is planning to replace its ageing HH-60G personnel recovery helicopter fleet as the service faces several maintenance challenges, according to a new report released by the US Government Accountability Office (GAO).
The reports highlights that the material condition of the HH-60G Pave Hawk aircraft has declined while their maintenance challenges have increased owing to the extended use beyond the initially planned service life of the helicopters.
As of 2017, approximately 68% of the total fleet of 96 HH-60G helicopters was mission-capable, which is below the 75% mission-capable rate required by the USAF.
USAF officials stated that the schedule for integrating the new combat rescue helicopters prioritises the replacement of the aircraft fleet with the highest number of flight hours.
The active component of the airforce will begin receiving the deliveries of its new helicopters in fiscal year 2020, which would be six years before the delivery to the service’s reserve component.
Beginning next year, the squadrons from the Air National Guard are expected to receive upgraded and overhauled US Army helicopters that would temporarily replace the ageing HH-60G fleet until the new Combat Rescue Helicopters are delivered beginning in 2027.
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According to USAF officials, the army helicopters will have 3,000 or fewer flight hours and will be upgraded to the USAF’s HH-60G configuration.
These aircraft will help enhance reliability rates, reduce the need for unscheduled maintenance and bridge the gap until the Air National Guard receives the new fleet.
Furthermore, the airforce fielding schedule for the new helicopters is expected to pose a challenge in supporting formal training for reserve component squadrons in fiscal years 2025-28.
Training squadrons at Kirtland and Nellis Air Force Bases are deployed to carry out all formal HH-60G training for both the active and reserve components, the report added.
By 2025, the training squadrons are slated to be completely transitioned to the new Combat Rescue Helicopters.