PATUXENT RIVER, Md. (NNS) -- The first operationally deployed detachment of Naval Air System Command's (NAVAIR) MH-60S Seahawks returned recently from the fleet and reported 100 percent mission completion.
"It's been very rewarding to see just how well the MH-60S has supported the fleet," said Capt. William Shannon, manager of NAVAIR's H-60 program. "We got the Sierra out to the fleet in record time and under cost."
NAVAIR achieved milestone II for Sierra in 1998 and received the authority to procure a low rate initial production aircraft. Four years later, two Sierras from Helicopter Support Squadron (HC) 5 were providing logistics support to the fleet in the Arabian Sea.
"The Sierras were there to provide the beans and bullets so the battle group could continue to operate," said Cmdr. Rob Murphy, Sierra Air Vehicle Integrated Product Team lead. "Feedback has been very positive. Everybody loves the aircraft."
Since the original deployment in August 2002, eight other detachments have gone to the fleet with HC-5 and HC-6. The Sierras are also providing amphibious search and rescue support with the amphibious ready groups in the Arabian Gulf and Mediterranean Sea.
"The initial operating capability of the MH-60S was a resounding success," said Lt. Cmdr. Spencer Crispell, HC-5 Det. 1 officer in charge. "The men and women of HC-5 Det. 1 and the flight deck crew aboard USNS San Jose (T-AFS 7) proved the MH-60S has a bright future in the Navy's helo CONOPS (concept of operations) plan."
This accelerated deployment of the Sierras was in response to the pressing need for a medium lift helicopter to replace the H-46 Sea Knights, some of which are more than 30 years old. Retirement of all 69 H-46s currently in the fleet is the priority and is scheduled to be completed in fiscal year 2004.
"The Sierra provides the fleet a more stable platform with a greatly increased capability for conducting flight operations and performing the mission," Murphy said. "The Sierra also brings improved communications and navigation systems."
Two block upgrades are planned for the Sierra. The first will provide for an airborne mine countermeasures capability, with the initial operating capability slated for 2006. The second upgrade will result in an armed variant with a forward looking infrared capability, precision-guided munitions and an integrated self-defense package.
The Sierra is a combination of a Navy Seahawk and an Army Blackhawk. The Blackhawk was "marinized" with the Seahawk's existing folding rotor system and tail. The new design included a floor mounted roller system that enables the handling of palletized cargo, and the integration of the MH-60R all-glass cockpit, which provides state-of-the-art communications and navigation systems.
"We provided a helicopter to the fleet better, faster and cheaper, and it is highly common with the existing fleet of H-60s and the upcoming Romeo," Murphy said. "This saves an incredible amount of money and reduces the number and type of parts that need to be kept in supply."
There are currently 40 Sierras operational in three Helicopter Combat Support Squadrons, including HC-3, HC-5 and HC-6. Deliveries have started to HC-8 in Norfolk, Va., and HC-11 in San Diego. These squadrons currently have six detachments operationally deployed to the Arabian Gulf and the Far East. Five other Sierras are assigned to NAVAIR Patuxent River, Md., for test and evaluation.
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