“The Coast Guard’s MH-65 Helicopter Fleet Is Headed For Trouble” –Forbes + Maybe MQ-8Bs

US Coast Guard photo, by PAC Dana Warr

Craig Hooper, writing for Forbes, brings us a warning about the status of the H-65 fleet.

We knew the Coast Guard was in the process of replacing H-65s with H-60s because they have become increasingly difficult to support.

The Coast Guard has on-going life extension programs for both H-60s and H-65s, but the author thinks progress is too slow.

There are two issues here.

  1. Replacing land-based H-65s
  2. Having helicopters that can operate off the WMECs.

I would like to think the Coast Guard has a workable plan to replace the land based H65s but waiting way too long to start replacement programs does seem to be part of the Coast Guard’s DNA.

As to the helicopters for WMECs, Cooper notes,

“At sea, the Coast Guard’s 27 aged mid-sized cutters cannot fully support the larger footprint of an MH-60 platform. Delays in getting the Coast Guard’s highly anticipated Offshore Patrol Cutter into service means the old cutters will remain in the fleet—and needing Dolphin helicopters—for years.”

As I recall, the 13 WMEC 270s were designed to operate H-60s and Alex Haley looks like her facilities may be large enough as well. Certainly, operating H-60s from the 14 WMEC 210s is a non-starter.

The number of H-65s required solely to support 210 operations is relatively small. Judicious use and cannibalization could probably keep a few operational until the last 210 goes out of service.  That should happen about 2032.

If that is not possible, there is another alternative, UAVs. They could certainly operate Scan Eagle. Another possibility is Fire Scout.

The Navy is phasing out their MQ-8B VTOL drone in favor of the larger MQ-8C. Perhaps the Coast Guard could take over some or all 30 ot the B models and operate them from 210s. They might also be operated alongside H-60s from Bertholf class NSCs and Argus class OPCs. Although they probably cannot do armed overwatch (or maybe they could), they might be a better search asset than the H-65, given their greater endurance. This would also prep the Coast Guard to also participate in the MQ-8C at some time in the future.

PACIFIC OCEAN (Sept. 18, 2019) Sailors push an MQ-8B Fire Scout assigned to the Wildcards of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 23 on the flight deck of the Independence-variant littoral combat ship USS Gabrielle Giffords (LCS 10).  (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Josiah J. Kunkle/Released)190918-N-YI115-1004

Interestingly, there is also a comment about the Coast Guard’s role in DOD’s Future Vertical Lift (FVL) Program,

“Replacement helicopters will be slow to arrive. The U.S. Coast Guard Commandant, Admiral Karl L. Schultz, says the Service is “looking fifteen or so years down the road at our rotary wing aviation program.” Unless the Coast Guard acts quickly to have their basic performance requirements folded into the Department of Defense’s Future Vertical Lift Initiative, a Coast Guard variant of whatever the Navy gets will likely take two decades—or more—to obtain and field.”

The FVL program is expected to produce at least two airframes, one to replace the H-60 and a smaller aircraft to replace the Army’s scout helicopters.

Thanks to Paul for bringing this to my attention. 

30 thoughts on ““The Coast Guard’s MH-65 Helicopter Fleet Is Headed For Trouble” –Forbes + Maybe MQ-8Bs

  1. Didn’t the USCG start Additive Manufacturing Printing “Spare Parts” on ships in August 2017?/! What happened did they simply give up trying, or is this a outright replacement issue of a 42-year old design…

    • EXACTLY!!!
      One should first ask oneself:

      The CG has literally rebuilt all 99+ HH-65 Airframes from the frame up at least 3 times.
      More than a few were Class-A mishaps that were pulled from beneath the ocean, rebuilt, and are still flying today. If I recall correctly, I think the CG has only LOST one airframe – ALL the rest are flying. I believe the CG managed to get a few spare HH-65 hulks from elsewhere to utilize in their rebuilding program.

      The folks down in e-City know their stuff and have dutifully upgraded the HH-65 over the past 40+ years.

      I don’t know but is this some sort of DC Area Hit Piece (article) meant for Congressional Staffers for future funding or some other purposes. Note, there is not one official CG quote about the 65’s in this article other than some off-handed generic quote made by the COMDT that is made in speeches all the time. I highly doubt the author sat down with the COMDT but he did seem to use a prior 65 snippet the COMDT stated in a speech for his article to sell it. Maybe the author had some unofficial off-the-record concerns brought to him by someone at CGHQ yet the article seems to convey their are maintainers and pilots out there concerned about flying this aircraft. I doubt it! If you’ve seen how they strip one of these airframes down to its core and rebuild it, it’s amazing. They are NEW aircraft coming out of e-City when these things are rebuilt.

  2. One thing I never really understood about the both the H65 and H60, was why the USCG went smaller on both models that they were replacing. I’m sure improved speed was a factor, but the H-65 had a significantly smaller cabin than the H-52 and likewise with the H-60 replacing the H-3. I’ve flown in the 65 and know how tiny that cabin is. I also got a chance to see an H-60 at an airshow and I was very surprised at how cramped that cabin was as well. I think it would be great to consider the S-92 https://www.lockheedmartin.com/en-us/products/sikorsky-s-92-helicopter.html but I’ll admit, it’s probably bigger than the powers that be will want. On the upside, it is a very proven design and it’s will be the new Marine One for the President so it’ll be in the DOD inventory for a while. I’m not sure if the Army’s Future Lift program will fit too well with USCG needs. From what I’ve read, the downdraft forces on the test models have been pretty strong and that certainly won’t be ideal for hoisting.

      • Depends on the internal dimensions of usable space of the ship’ s hanger! Basic size of Sikorsky S-92 without Main Rotor unfolded is ~56’02″L x ~12’09″W x ~15’05″H with Main Rotor folded height is increased to ~17’11” and Fuselage width increased to ~14’02″…

    • The S-92 is indeed an obvious choice.

      – Large size/weight for more rescue capacity, reducing need for multiple trips or aircraft;

      – Sikorsky already has configurations of this model for SAR and Coastal Patrol;

      – Sikorsky has experience, hardware, and software already in use by CG for the H-60 program, hopefully making shipboard use that much easier;

      – S-92 has high reliability rate.

      The two disadvantages I see are range and cost. It is about twice the cost of the Jayhawk and it has only 3/4 the range. The latter may be adjustable, but the cost certainly would not…

      • The USCG is looking for something within the same size and performance envelope of that of the MH-65, and they think they may have found it in the Leonardo (ex AgustaWestland) AW139. And to be completely honest the S-92 is a better replacement for the MH-60 Jayhawk than that of the MH-65, which the USCG doesn’t seem to be interest in replacing any time soon…

        ( https://www.rotorandwing.com/2019/01/17/sb-1-defiant-aw139-consideration-coast-guard-considers-mh-65-replacement/ )

      • The UK uses Sikorsky S-92 and Agusta Westland AW189 for Search and Rescue. From land bases of course…the reason AW-101 Merlin wasn’t used is because the contract is run by Bristow Helicopters as the RAF and RN ceased to provide SAR coverage with the retirement of the Sea King, far cheaper to put it out to tender, the UK Coastguard had been using a privately operated SAR contract using S-61 in the Shetlands and Falklands for years so took the model and applied it to the entire UK. Plenty of experience in the offshore world, off the UK with S-92 and AW-189, It hasn’t all been plain sailing though…

        But if you’re talking about shipboard use for the S-92 you’d need to be looking at the Canadian CH-148 Cyclone, a navalized S-92, with folding tail boom and powered rotor fold amongst other improvements….

        But then you look at the CH-148 programme’s issues…..yikes…massive red flag flying off that one…

  3. I agree with you on the S-92. While it is a great platform, it is definitely bigger than what USCG is looking for. Thanks for bringing up the AW139 as that is definitely more in line with a replacement of the H-65’s. Whatever we do, I hope the higher ups have learned their lessons from when the 65’s were introduced with the under powered engines. They did pretty well with the 60’s but then again, that was a proven design already in use by other services.

  4. I don’t really expect the Coast Guard to adopt a different airframe. If they want more H-60 and they want them faster, there are ways to get them if the money is available.

    As for the H-65s, there may not be as many as there are H-60s, but it was a very successful design. According to Wikipedia,
    “By 2011, more than 1,000 AS365/366/565 versions had been produced; Pawan Hans took delivery of the 1,000th Dauphin produced in April 2011, at which point the type was reportedly in service with over 300 operators worldwide.”

    • In 11 August 2020, the MH-60 Jayhawk got an ADE-2A extension and to be supplemented with 18 new MH-60T airframes by 2023. So it unlikely the MH-60 is going to be replaced by the mid-2030’s at the very least…

  5. I could not get one of Secundius’ links to work, “SB-1 Defiant, AW139 Under Consideration As Coast Guard MH-65 Replacement,” but I did find it. It does date from more than three years ago and talks about CG H-65 life extension program.


    • Zero commonality I’m afraid, a totally new aircraft, including dynamic components.

      I’m afraid the small (but useful) shipborne helicopter market has got a little empty in recent years, there are still a few nations using Lynx and they’ll be around for a while, but its replacement the Wildcat doesn’t have a folding boom and is a little too advanced and expensive for most. H160 could clear up in that market purely due to lack of competition, but it might not be going to sea for quite some time, even though the French are absolutely desperate for it. The militarized version is still being designed (the Guepard) and isn’t planned to arrive in limited service until 2026, and thats cutting it fine. Doubtful if anyone else will get anything off the production line for Guepard until 2030 as the French have priority, and in truth needed replacements 10 years ago, let alone in 2026 onwards…

      Mind you, on the larger side of things, there could be a fair few NH-90’s going spare for a decent price soon…Australia will be ditching them, and a possibility of Sweden…

      Personally I’m a big fan of the AW139 and AW149. Great helicopters with huge numbers produced and operating successfully. Would have thought the MH-139 would be a sensible move for the USCG.

  6. Do anyone know what the Overhang Hangar Doors Height is on either the NSC or the OPC! Because if there lower than 15-feet, none of the aforementioned S-92, AW139 or H-160 are going to fit under the overhang, even with the main rotor folded in the stowed position…

    • How low is the height of the Flight Deck Hangar Door(s)? HH-65’s height is ~13’01”, whereas H-160 is ~16’01” and that of Jayhawk being ~15’08″…

      • First I don’t see any chance the Coast Guard will start buying H160s. We are headed for an all H-60 rotary wing fleet, but good question. Anyone know?

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