by DAVID AXE
For most of its near-future airplane needs, the U.S. Air Force will buy upgraded versions of current airplanes, according to service officials. The air branch will build gunship, Special Forces and electronic-warfare versions of the C-130J, update its oldest C-17 airlifters and replace today’s HH-60 rescue choppers with newer models of the same helicopter. Only the fighter force will get large numbers of new-design planes, in the form of the F-35A.
This is sound thinking, and echoes what the Navy is doing with its surface fleet and the Army with its helicopter force and tanks. But there’s risk. Air Force Chief of Staff General Norton Schwartz told Air Force Magazine that the HH-60 is “a pretty good airplane. It’s not a perfect rescue airplane, but it can operate at altitude. It’s a resilient airframe. It’s proven.”
The folks who fly HH-60s in Afghanistan might beg to differ. Under-powered for its size and over-burdened with armor and weapons, the HH-60 can’t reach 9,000 feet under normal circumstances. In Afghanistan’s flat, low south, where some HH-60s are based, that’s not a problem. In the mountainous north, even routine rescues can pose huge challenges. For one mountain rescue, the 33rd Rescue Squadron had to strip all the weapons and armor from their aircraft. Luckily, they weren’t hit by enemy fire. If they had been …
Point is, proven weapons are great for budgetary and planning purposes. But if a proven weapon is proven to have deficiencies, continuing to rely on it might save money, and cost lives.
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