HH-60W Jolly Green II Helicopters Sent To Africa On First Deployment
The HH-60Ws were photographed operating from parts of east Africa both on land and at sea as part of their first operational deployment.
The U.S. Air Force's newest HH-60W Jolly Green II combat search-and-rescue (CSAR) helicopters have been operating in east Africa on their first deployment. While specific locations haven't been disclosed, recently released Defense Department photos nonetheless show the aircraft conducting exercises in the region. The development comes after the Air Force declared initial operational capability, or IOC, for the helicopters on September 9 of last year, though the milestone wasn’t publicly announced until October along with when the service first disclosed the type's inaugural deployment.
The first set of photos was shared by the Defense Department on December 8, 2022, and shows U.S. Pararescueman using the Jolly Green II to conduct a casualty evacuation (CASEVAC) exercise. The captions for the images explain that the demonstration was carried out at an undisclosed location in the east Africa/Horn of Africa region. CASEVAC exercises are meant to prepare rescue personnel for a crisis response scenario.
Another recently released Defense Department photo set shows a Jolly Green II assigned to the 41st Rescue Squadron from Moody Air Force Base, Georgia, participating in flight operations with crew members from the expeditionary sea base USS Hershel ‘Woody’ Williams (ESB 4) on December 31, 2022. USS Hershel Williams is also on a scheduled deployment in the region and was specifically identified in these pictures as being in the Indian Ocean at the time.
The Air Force has said that the first units currently fielding the aircraft are the 41st Rescue Squadron at Moody Air Force Base and the 512th Rescue Squadron at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico. Considering that the Jolly Green IIs training with the USS Hershel Williams sea base are confirmed to be assigned to the 41st, The War Zone has reached out to Moody for additional details about the CSAR helicopters’ deployment and is awaiting a response. Regardless, the Jolly Green II's first deployment would line up with those of its predecessor, the HH-60G Pave Hawk, which was known to operate with expeditionary units from stations in East Africa like Somalia and Kenya as general examples.
Word of the first Jolly Green II deployment came not long after Gen. Mark Kelly, commander of Air Combat Command, made the IOC declaration on September 9, 2022. The helicopters set out on the deployment two weeks later on September 24. Corresponding photos released by the Defense Department showed airmen at Moody loading a Jolly Green II onto a C-17 Globemaster III at the base a few days prior. The captions didn’t offer any further information aside from saying that “the first-ever operational deployment of the HH-60W [is] to provide rescue services in support of contingency operations.”
“The future of [Air Force] rescue is secure, and our team is ready to recover anybody, anytime, anywhere, against any adversary,” said 23rd Wing commander Col. Russell Cook in a post on Moody’s Facebook page.
In what only adds to the string of achievements being clocked by the Jolly Green II recently, the helicopter also took part in its first-ever official rescue operation last September. A Jolly Green II from Moody Air Force Base was tapped to airlift an airman from a hospital in Valdosta, Georgia, to a different facility in Florida shortly after completing a training sortie that reportedly took four hours. Following a quick 45 minutes of flight preparation, the Jolly Green II and its crewmembers from the 41st and 38th Rescue Squadrons successfully completed the rescue operation.
The Jolly Green II, an advanced and heavily missionized variant of the Army’s UH-60M Black Hawk helicopter, has been engineered to offer a selection of new capabilities over the older Pave Hawk. According to Sikorsky, these upgrades broadly include expanded aerodynamic and hover performance, an increase in main fuel tank capacity to 644 gallons of fuel as opposed to 360, new integrated defense systems, expanded communications, higher resolution sensors, a more spacious main cabin, and upgraded armor and ballistic protection.
In our previous coverage of the Jolly Green II’s development, which can be read here, we highlighted the helicopter’s more specific modifications like a new version of the AN/APR-52 radar warning receiver and the implementation of service-specific crashworthy seats. Jolly Green II will also hang onto its progenitor’s weapons mounts on either side of the fuselage that can be fitted with 7.62mm Miniguns or .50 caliber GAU-18/A or GAU-21/A machine guns.
The Air Force first awarded Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin subsidiary, the contract to build a new CSAR helicopter fleet to replace the Pave Hawk in 2014. The award was initially for 113 Jolly Green IIs, but in the nine years since Sikorsky won the bid, the Air Force’s requirements, competing priorities, and budget have evolved to where only 65 aircraft were on order.
As of September last year, 23 of the 65 purchased Jolly Green IIs had been delivered to the Air Force. The service’s fiscal 2023 budget would fund the purchase of just 10 more this year, bringing the original order of 113 down to just 75. Compared to the fleet of 99 Pave Hawks that the Air Force is said to operate as of March of last year, the size of the new Jolly Green II fleet would be notably smaller. All in all, the Air Force plans to spend $4.1 billion on the new CSAR helicopter fleet.
While the Pave Hawk was definitely in need of replacement, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall has cited the changing threat environment brought on by the advancements of adversaries like Russia and China as reasoning for the truncated Jolly Green II order. Questions about the operational utility of a traditional helicopter that lacks the range and survivability necessary for CSAR in a high-end conflict, especially in the Pacific, have been raised by both the service and here at The War Zone. It also didn't help that as soon as the Air Force received its first two Jolly Green IIs in 2020, the service immediately began looking to upgrade them after legacy technology used on the Pave Hawk was found to also equip the new helicopters.
“The scenarios that we’re most worried about are not the same as they once were,” Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall told reporters during a press briefing in March. “When we were doing counterinsurgencies, and we were losing pilots in those kinds of situations, the needs were different. The acts of aggression like we’re seeing in Europe, or we might see [in] the Pacific … put us in a very different scenario.”
The war in Ukraine has raised questions about the potential vulnerabilities of traditional helicopters on a modern battlefield, as well. Russia and Ukraine's employment of short-range heat-seeking missiles, namely those fired by man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS), but including other air defense capabilities as well, has posed a significant threat to the helicopter forces of both nations.
Regardless, the Jolly Green II appears to be now proving itself in diverse operations abroad.
Contact the author: Emma@thewarzone.com