The United States Air Force (USAF) plans to replace its aging HH-60G personnel recovery helicopter fleet as it is facing maintenance challenges.
According to the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) report to the Congressional committees published this month, about 68 percent of the 96-helicopter fleet were mission-capable as of 2017, which is below the USAF desired mission-capable rate of 75 percent.
The fleet is experiencing maintenance challenges. For example, the helicopters undergoing depot-level maintenance spent an average of 332 days undergoing such maintenance in fiscal year 2017 compared with 233 days in fiscal year 2007, more than a 40-percent increase, the report stated.
Air Force officials attribute these challenges to the helicopters exceeding their initially planned service life. Currently, available helicopters across the fleet average about 7,100 flight hours about 18 percent more than their initial expected service life of 6,000 hours.
According to Air Force officials, the schedule for fielding the new Combat Rescue Helicopters (CRH) generally prioritizes the replacement of helicopters with the highest number of flight hours; as a result, the active component is scheduled to begin receiving its new helicopters in fiscal year 2020, 6 years before the reserve component.
Due to the Air Force fielding schedule for the Combat Rescue Helicopters, the Air Force may face a challenge in supporting formal training for reserve component squadrons in fiscal year 2025 through 2028.
The training squadrons at Kirtland and Nellis Air Force Bases conduct all formal HH-60G training for both the active and reserve components. By 2025, these training squadrons are scheduled to be completely transitioned to the new Combat Rescue Helicopters. Given the fielding schedule, the training squadrons will not have any legacy HH60Gs for formal training for the reserve component.
However, some squadrons in the reserve component are scheduled to continue flying HH-60Gs until 2028 and will still need formal training. Air Force reserve component officials did not concur with the new Combat Rescue Helicopter fielding schedule. However, Air Force officials said that they plan to maintain their fielding schedule because changing it would require renegotiation of the contract, likely increase costs, and possibly delay delivery of the new helicopters.
Air Force officials acknowledged this potential training issue and told GAO that the Air Force was considering options to address it; including retaining some legacy HH-60Gs at a training squadron to provide training during any gap period