Six Countries Interested in USAF’s New Combat Rescue Helicopter

An HH-60W Combat Rescue Helicopter lifts an 8,000-pound load at the Sikorsky Development Flight Center in West Palm Beach, Fla., on Aug. 6, 2019. Sikorsky courtesy photo.

Six foreign countries are interested in buying the Air Force’s new Sikorsky-built Combat Rescue Helicopter, the HH-60W, according to a company official.

Greg Hames, Sikorsky’s CRH program director, told Air Force Magazine on Sept. 9 the company has pulled together six briefings for those undisclosed countries. He referred other foreign military sales questions to the Air Force, which did not immediately respond.

“If we are able to stimulate the international customer into buying these combat search-and-rescue [helicopters], that ultimately helps the Air Force because it drives down unit cost,” Hames said. “The Air Force has the entire portfolio and who they’re entertaining with this capability.”

If other countries want to invest in the program, the Air Force would have to choose whether to take airframes from the existing production line and when.

The $7.1 billion program is based on the Black Hawk and will replace the HH-60G Pave Hawk enterprise with 112 combat, test, and training helicopters, plus a slew of updated educational and other support materials. The HH-60W boasts a 660-gallon fuel tank for greater range, a digital cockpit, and additional surveillance equipment, among other features.

Hames expects that Will Roper, the Air Force’s assistant secretary for acquisition, technology, and logistics, will grant the helicopter’s next milestone on Sept. 24. That decision will open the door for production, and Hames believes a contract to start building the first batch of 10 helicopters will be inked by the end of September. Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin subsidiary, plans to deliver one CRH a month starting in the second quarter of fiscal 2021.

Since the first HH-60W’s maiden flight in May, the company has continued testing four aircraft in Florida and flew one in Connecticut on Sept. 6 that will head to more formal evaluation with the Air Force. No issues have emerged during the four Florida aircraft’s test flights, Hames said.

Hangars at Sikorsky’s Palm Beach County, Fla., facility were unharmed by Hurricane Dorian, and are built to withstand Category 4 storms or stronger, he added.

If all goes as planned, Sikorsky will host a rollout ceremony on Oct. 7 in Florida with Roper and dozens of its top suppliers. The supply base will then get started on long-lead materials and components as helicopter production ramps up. A contract for the second lot is on tap next spring, Hames added.