The US government, the Department of Defense and the US Air Force are all facing unprecedented budgetary challenges. Reduced funding for operations, program delays and major program cancellations are being mandated to assure a viable but affordable air and space force to protect the American people. While everything should be on the potential cutting block, there is one program we simply cannot afford to cut.
Combat rescue has been a core mission of the Air Force since its inception in 1947 because the service considers the obligation of “not leaving our downed comrades behind” as a moral imperative. The Air Force is the only service with dedicated, trained rescue forces that provide the joint force capability in all theaters. We feel passionately that the viability of Air Force combat rescue is critical to the accomplishment of the Air Force’s missions today and in the future.
No single capability is as important to US forces achieving the “golden hour” in recovering injured US and allied personnel from the battlefield as the Air Force’s rescue forces. According to a DoD study, Air Force rescue forces have recovered more than half of all joint personnel recovery missions in the CENTCOM area of operation with 2 percent of the deployed rotary-wing aircraft. According to the Air Force, this achievement has resulted in over 12,000 recoveries in CENTCOM since Sept. 11, 2001.
Future Air Force combat operations will require a viable, effective combat rescue capability. This force must be ready on day one — organized, trained and equipped for all-weather, hostile, contested recovery of US forces anywhere in the world. We applaud the Air Force’s intention to provide new helicopters to our rescue forces. The impending award of the Combat Rescue Helicopter (CRH) acquisition is a laudable, decade-long overdue step to modernize the rescue fleet. Our crews are flying with 1980s technology, adding unnecessary risk to their already dangerous mission. The capabilities that will be provided under CRH will ensure our sons and daughters who serve our country in war will not be left behind.
Cutting or delaying CRH now is false economy. While it appears to address short-term budgetary pressures, it imposes significant long-term investment penalties. The eventual acquisition of the helicopters will cost more, and the increasing expense of maintaining the aging fleet is crippling. Further delays will result in our crews attempting missions with degraded equipment, skills and training — increasing accident rates, combat loss rates and mission failures.
CRH is the one program we cannot afford to cut. Current budget challenges must not be allowed to result in American lives lost.
18th US Air Force chief of staff
Former Air Combat Command commander
Former Air Education and Training Command commander