Gotta represent my favorite guys (I maybe a little bias but still Go Army Beat Navy)
The Coast Guard is flying right alongside the larger U.S. military services in their quest for Future Vertical Lift (FVL) technologies, but will need a “bridging strategy” to get from its current rotorcraft fleet, according to Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz.
The Coast Guard is in the midst of upgrading its fleet of nearly 100 Airbus MH-65 Dolphin helicopters but also plans to retire some of them in favor of the larger and newer Sikorsky MH-60 Jayhawk. Most of the Dolphin fleet, the service’s primary helicopter used aboard deployed cutters at sea, is approaching or has already surpassed 30,000 flight hours, even as they are being upgraded.
“We are absolutely tied into DoD in terms of Future Vertical Lift and what that will look like,” Schultz said April 13 during a webinar hosted by the Navy League in lieu of the annual Sea-Air-Space conference, which was canceled because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. “Unfortunately, that’s eight to 10 years down the road and we’ve got to do some bridging strategies in the interim period.”
First fielded in 1984, the MH-65 was supposed to phase out of operation by 2027. Now the Coast Guard is undertaking a service life extension program (SLEP) to prolong the Dolphin’s service life beyond 2035. The aircraft has also received avionics upgrades and, since 2007, new Turbomeca Arriel 2C2-CG engines that have added 40 percent more power.
Despite those upgrades, finding parts for the out-of-production MH-65 is becoming more difficult, Schultz said. The Coast Guard will fly its MH-65s “beyond any other program in the world here in a little bit,” he said.
“We’ve got some opportunities to do some service life extension with some new hulls to drive up our fleet of 45 MH-60 Jayhawks, the larger helicopters, drive that number north while at the same time start driving down our MH-65s,” Shultz said.
Included in the Coast Guard’s fiscal year 2020 budget is $200 million in aircraft funding. Of that, at least $45 million will go toward MH-65 reliability and sustainability improvements including installation of an integrated cockpit and sensor suite, according to Coast Guard budget documents.
Another $20 million will pay for ongoing service life extension work on the MH-60T, which has “time-limited structural fittings and dynamic components that necessitate a 20,000-hour service life limit,” the Coast Guard says. The program will extend the service life into the mid-2030s, allowing the Coast Guard to participate in the Department of Defense’s Future Vertical Lift program.1
As interested as the Coast Guard may be in the Army-led FVL program, it will play little role in the resultant aircraft designs. To replace its MH-60T, the Coast Guard likely would purchase a version of the 30,000-pound (13,600-kilogram) class Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA), which the Army is developing as a replacement for its UH-60 Black Hawk. The leading contenders for that program are Bell’s V-280 Valor advanced tiltrotor and the Sikorsky-Boeing SB>1 Defiant coaxial compound helicopter.
Another possibility is the Coast Guard riding the wake of the Navy’s FVL Maritime Strike (FVL-MS) program, which seeks to replace the MH-60R/S helicopter and MQ-8B/C unmanned vertical lift platform.
“FVL-MS is the recap effort for the MH-60R/S and the MQ-8B/C to ensure enhanced capabilities are available in the 2035+ timeframe,” according to the Navy, which expects to finish an analysis of alternatives for Future Vertical Lift Maritime Strike capability by the end of fiscal year 2022.