Young Calls For Rethinking Of CSAR Concept

Feb 18, 2009
By Michael Fabey

Editor's Note: These articles are part of an exclusive series on combat, search and rescue (CSAR) that originally ran in Aerospace Daily & Defense Report in late January 2009.

U.S. forces may have to reconsider the way they plan for combat, search and rescue (CSAR) missions with the advent of fifth-generation aircraft like the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, Pentagon acquisition chief John Young says.

“The whole conops is doubtful,” Young said in an interview with Aerospace DAILY. Indeed, he said, there are likely no existing or planned CSAR helicopter fleets – including the $15 billion CSAR-X replacement program – that would be able to conduct rescue missions in the kind of deep enemy territory missions envisioned for Raptors and JSFs, Young said.

“No CSAR helicopter is going to be able to get to those regions,” he said.

Range issues

Even the planned upgraded CSAR helicopters have neither the range nor survivability to support the range of operations for the new-generation fighters, Young said. “If we have that situation we are going to do our best to rescue those people,” he said. “I think the V-22 could have some of the speed and range.”

The V-22 was pulled from CSAR-X competition because of downwash, cost and other concerns — and Young was quick to add that he was not pushing the aircraft for the job.

It may be worthwhile to look at other ways of doing the mission, he added.

While the Air Force begs off any direct confrontation with Young (Aerospace DAILY, Jan. 28, 29), service officials maintain they have met all the acquisition requirements to move ahead with the CSAR-X fleet selection and eventual contract award.

Young maintains that some of those requirements should have been vetted more thoroughly much earlier in the process. “You have to start further back,” he said. “Those requirements are not carved in stone, and they shouldn’t be. Program managers are not advocates for their programs. They are not used-car salespeople shilling for their programs.”

Young said classified data show that dedicated Air Force CSAR aircraft have made no recent long-range rescues deep in enemy territory – the very mission CSAR-X is supposed to perform.

But Air Force officials connected with CSAR acquisition and requirements maintain that dedicated CSAR fleets have been called upon numerous times for a variety of rescues, especially by sister services, and that CSAR requirements have been proven and honed through the decades.

They also point out that CSAR requirements have never been based on the maximum range of other aircraft, because the distribution of a downed crew is more of a function of where U.S. forces fight than long-rage aircraft potential. B-1Bs performing missions over Afghanistan fly thousands of miles from bases through the Middle East, covered by ships and Navy helicopters until they get near their targets. Then they would come under the purview of the dedicated Air Force CSAR forces that do not operate from the same bases as the bomber.


Young said Afghanistan is such a benign environment now that dedicated CSAR fleets would not likely be needed if a rescue was warranted. But he did acknowledge that range differential between the new and legacy fighters could be offset by mission configuration.

Young’s comments continue in the same vein as thoughts he voiced at a November breakfast roundtable interview with Washington journalists, during which he questioned “the premise [that the] CSAR-X community is in desperate need.” His comments drew the ire and fire of some in the CSAR community. “I offered a view,” Young said later. “I have not directed any specific actions. I have looked at the past data, and there are only a modest number of CSAR operations, and very few at long range. Indeed, the Army and the Marine Corps largely conduct CSAR as an adjunct mission with the equipment the services own or can access.”

But even some U.S. allies are wondering about the Pentagon’s commitment to CSAR. In a Sept. 4 letter to Air Force Chief of Staff General Norton Schwartz, Lt. Gen. J.H. Jansen, commander of the Royal Netherlands Air Force, wrote, “I am concerned that the development of certain advanced capabilities, such as Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) or Joint Personnel Recovery, is being hindered by a lack of focus and direction.”

Jansen continued, “No European nation has the capability to autonomously plan and execute a complex CSAR mission in a high threat environment. It has been generally assumed by some that U.S. forces will meet the shortfall. However, I believe this is an unrealistic assumption, not least because of the constraints this could impose on future operational planning. Instead, we should be combining our capabilities and resources so that we can at least conduct CSAR missions in a low-medium threat environment.”

Photo: Boeing

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