Roles and Mission Shift?

Combat search and rescue/personnel recovery has long been a core USAF mission; however, Defense Secretary Robert Gates clearly wants to rewrite the CSAR portion of roles and missions. In remarks April 15 at Air University, Maxwell AFB, Ala., he said, “Frankly, the notion of an unarmed helicopter going 250 miles by itself to rescue somebody did not seem to me to be a realistic [operational concept],” he said. (For the record: CSAR-X would have crew machine guns and likely would operate with other air assets, as needed.) Gates added, “What I want is a joint effort.” He was responding to a question from an Air National Guard HH-60 Pave Hawk pilot, who said: “The advocacy for Air Force rescue seems to have been sidetracked by the CSAR acquisition program to the detriment of our mission itself. As you know, we’ve performed thousands of joint and coalition recoveries in [US Central Command’s area of responsibility] largely because the operational flexibility of our profession transcends the risk capability of other recovery forces and … often provides the best chance, if you will, to recover a wounded soldier from the point of injury back to effective trauma care within the golden hour.” So, the rescue pilot asked, “Given the dichotomy between the current issues and that objective, can you clarify for us please what is your vision for Air Force rescue as a core function of the Air Force and what would be a more sustainable approach at this time?” (Read for yourself the full exchange; Gates’ complete response is very telling.)