The US Navy is consolidating its helicopter fleet into two basic aircraft types –
the SikorskyMH-60S Knighthawk and the MH-60R Seahawk.
The Knighthawk has replaced the Navy’s Boeing CH-46D helicopters in the battle group logistics mission and has replaced/is scheduled to replace the UH-3H Sea King and UH-1N Twin Huey currently flying search and rescue at Naval Air Stations. The Knighthawk, or “Sierra” as it is sometimes referred to, is also replacing the UH-3H helicopter at the reserve squadron, HC-85, at NAS North Island in San Diego, CA. The current plan also uses the MH-60S to replace the Sikorsky MH-53E Sea Stallion in the mine countermeasures mission. The “armed helo kit” is also in the works to arm the MH-60S with forward-firing ordnance.
The initial designation of the Knighthawk was CH-60S to designate its “cargo” mission. It was later changed to MH-60S due to its expanded “multi-mission” role. The nickname Knighthawk is a tribute to its predecessor, the CH-46D Sea Knight.
The Knighthawk is based on the Army UH-60 Blackhawk airframe and features the Blackhawk aft-mounted tail wheel. The automatically folding rotor head is identical to that on Navy Seahawks and is much more complex than the Army UH-60 rotor head. Basically, it is a Blackhawk with a Seahawk head. There are other differences, but they are insignificant to the casual observer.
The MH-60R Seahawk is the Navy’s newest aircraft. It has been fielded to replace the SH-60B Seahawk in the anti-submarine mission. The “Romeo” Seahawk is a new-build aircraft. It was originally envisioned as a re-built SH-60B, but a cost/benefit analysis showed that it made more sense to build new aircraft vice remanufacturing older SH-60Bs.
The MH-60S and MH-60R share a common cockpit developed by Lockheed Martin. This allows pilots to switch between the Knighthawk and the Seahawk with a minimal amount of training. The cockpit consists of 4 CRT screens (2 per pilot) with a cluster of analog back-up gauges in the center console. On each side of the center cockpit console are programmable keypads for controlling a multitude of aircraft functions.
The Navy, in the recent past, had five types of helicopter squadrons:
HC – Helicopter Combat Support Squadrons (H-46D and UH-3H) – Embarked on battle group logistics ships as cargo haulers and also embarked on amphibious helicopter aircraft carriers as a SAR platform (plane guard).
HS – Helicopter Anti-Submarine (SH-60F/HH-60H) – Embarked on aircraft carriers for SAR support (plane guard) and anti-submarine protection of the carrier.
HSL – Helicopter Anti-Submarine Light (SH-60B) – Embarked on frigates, destroyers, and cruisers as an anti-submarine platform.
HM – Helicopter Mine Countermeasures (MH-53E) – Mine countermeasures squadrons.
HCS – Helicopter Combat Support Special (HH-60H) – Naval reserve squadrons specializing in U.S. Special Operations support missions.
A proposed future of the U.S. Navy helicopter squadron make-up is this:
HSC – Helicopter Sea Combat (MH-60S/R) – A combination of the HC/HS squadrons of the past. The new HSC squadron will deploy on the carrier and will send detachments of helicopters onto the smaller ships to fill the old HC/HSL missions. HSC Expeditionary squadrons will continue to provide SAR support for the amphibious helicopter aircraft carriers.
HSM – Helicopter Maritime Strike (MH-60R) – Will replace the past HSL squadrons with a more capable multi-mission platform.
HM – The future of today’s MH-53E squadrons and their mission is uncertain.