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Combat Search and Rescue: Restoring Promise to a Sacred Assurance


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This research paper analyzes historical data from Southeast Asia, Operation Desert Storm, and Operation Allied Force to identify combat search and rescue (CSAR) helicopter shortfalls that endanger viable personnel recovery in a major theater war. It identifies still-relevant survivability requirements and suggests a helicopter fleet size based on historical asset density ratios. A comparative mission planning analysis reframes the benefit of increased helicopter speed in terms of reduced fighter and tanker requirements for long-range CSAR. This analysis of historical and contemporary issues informs a four-phase proposal to equip and organize the CSAR helicopter force for future relevance. The phased proposal leverages existing solutionssuch as vectored thrust ducted propeller (VTDP) technologyto upgrade the forthcoming HH-60W at a significant cost and time advantage over other potential vertical lift CSAR solutions. Implementing the proposed upgrades to the HH-60W will produce 200-210 knot helicopters well suited for CSAR, Light Attack Support, and Strike Control. This multi-role utilization provides operational value and is aligned with Air Force precedent and existing roles and missions agreements. This paper assumes major war is markedly possible in the next ten years, but absent such a war, it still seeks to posture Air Force combat helicopters as an airpower contributor for lower-intensity conflict. Viable and effective CSAR is an asymmetric advantage during attritional air warfare; it is also a moral obligation. The current and planned CSAR helicopter fleet is not adequate to fulfill the Air Forces sacred assurance that it will not leave its warriors behind. Change is required, and time may be short.



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