A Sikorsky-Boeing team is expected to submit a proposal for the US Army's Future Vertical Lift initiative that may include counter-rotating co-axial main rotors and a pusher propeller, as in this concept from the team. Similar technologies could be included in a future US Navy MH-XX helicopter. (Yu Ka Wing/Sikorsky-Boeing via Getty Images/iStock)
WASHINGTON — The Sikorsky H-60 Seahawk helicopter and Northrop Grumman C-2 Greyhound carrier-on-board delivery (COD) plane are longtime stalwarts of US Navy operations. The 35 Greyhounds constantly shuttle passengers and cargo to and from the fleet’s aircraft carriers, while some 460 H-60s of various models carry out a wide range of missions.
Both aircraft types will become due for replacement, and the way ahead for each has yet to be determined.
The newest C-2A dates from 1990, and the service is planning to award a replacement contract in 2016. Among the contenders are an updated version of the C-2A from Northrop, and a COD version of the Bell-Boeing MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft.
“Frankly, we’re looking at tilt-rotors as a potential option to replace the COD in the future. It’s a pretty versatile capability,” Rear Adm. Bill Moran, the US Navy’s director of air warfare at the Pentagon, said during a recent interview.
While the flexibility of a tilt-rotor is attractive, the Osprey has its issues.
“We’re concerned about its range, about [the lack of a] pressurized cabin, those sorts of things,” Moran said. “But there may be ways to mitigate those effects if we have to. So we are looking at it very hard. We just did an MUA, Military Utility Assessment, on the [carrier] Harry S. Truman with the MV-22s to see early on if that capability could operate inside the busy deck cycle in the carrier environment without disrupting that deck cycle.”
The flying portion of the assessment was completed in June.
“We did crawl, walk, run phases,” Moran said. The crawl phase was to determine if the MV-22 could safely approach, land and take off from the carrier, which was operating with a relatively clear flight deck. For the walk phase, “the carrier was busy, but not stressed.”
The final cycle, he said, “was a very stressed environment where we had to fit in the MV-22 to act like a COD.”
Final results of the MUA are still being compiled.
Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) also is performing structural assessments of all active C-2As.
“We need to see what is the art of the possible,” Moran said. “Not just re-winging them, upgrading those aircraft to carry us much further into the future. And kind of balancing the costs with the effectiveness of both, determining whether we need to change the way we are doing it.”
The 35 aircraft should keep flying until the mid-2020s, Moran said. “Right now is our opportunity to evaluate what we need to do, how much money we want to put towards remanufacturing the wings and the fuselage and the cockpit of the current COD fleet, or do we go with a production line V-22 option? Or do we look at something completely different? We’re looking at all of those options.”
The time frame to determine the follow-on for the fleet’s H-60 helicopters is further off, but far more complex. Key missions for the aircraft, according to a request for information for a capabilities-based assessment issued in April, include surface warfare, deep and shallow water anti-submarine warfare, mine warfare, special warfare and combat search and rescue, logistics support, medical evacuation and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.
The Navy is steadily replacing its SH-60B, SH-60F and HH-60H models with new MH-60R and MH-60S models, but procurement for the R and S production lines will end after 2016. After that, the H-60, based — like the C-2A — on a design first developed in the 1970s, will need a replacement.
Led by the Army, the Pentagon has been working on a service-wide future vertical lift effort, a partnership among all of the military services and industry. Within that, the Navy’s program to replace the MH-60Rs and MH-60Ss is dubbed the Maritime Helicopter, or MH-XX.
“We are putting our own MH-XX papers through the system, getting that started today to develop what we think are going to be the capability gaps for that, and the kind of technologies we would like to see,” Moran said. The effort is in its earliest stages.
Another airframe that will need to be replaced is Sikorsky’s MH-53E Sea Dragon mine-hunting helicopter. The Marine Corps is developing a new MH-53K model to replace its existing fleet of heavy-lift helos. But the Navy is not planning to invest in the K model.
“Right now, we are not planning to replace those [Sea Dragons],” Moran said. “We are looking at other capabilities. We think there is a path to more unmanned capability to solve the countermine and mine detection” missions.
The Navy and Marines, through the director of expeditionary warfare, are developing a roadmap for airborne mine detection.
“There is a lot of promise to what they are doing, both in the unmanned surface vehicle and unmanned undersurface vehicles,” Moran said. “But we are not developing a new heavy-lift capability.”