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US Coast Guard helicopter shift expected to augment service's high-latitude operations

The US Coast Guard is shifting over to a fleet of MH-60 helicopters. (Michael Fabey)

The US Coast Guard (USCG) expects to bolster its high-latitude helicopter air operations out of Kodiak, the USCG Arctic gateway, with the planned shift from its EADS MH-65D Dolphins to an entire fleet of Sikorsky MH-60T Jayhawks.

โ€œThe 60s have greater range,โ€ Lieutenant Commander Lars Anderson, an HC-130 Long Range Surveillance Aircraft pilot and USCG Air Station Kodiak assistant operations officer, told Janes. โ€œThey have a bigger payload [-carrying capability].โ€

The Jayhawks have a range of about 700 n miles (1,296 km), while the Dolphins have a range of about 290 n miles (537 km).

That extended range should help conduct search-and-rescue (SAR) and other high-latitude missions, he said.

Air Station Kodiak has six MH-60Ts and four MH-65Ds.

The shift will also help create a single helicopter logistics train for the service, although USCG officials note they will also have to deploy larger air and maintenance crews for the MH-60Ts than it does for the MH-65Ds.

Some administrative kinks need to be worked out. For example, Lt Cdr Anderson notes that while MH-65Ds are based in Kodiak, they receive their orders from Alaska Patrol, and some of the aircraft are embarked on cutters.

โ€œWe are moving in the direction of deploying our 60s on cutters,โ€ he said.

Coastguard vessels cannot accommodate the bigger HH-60Ts, he said. The service is considering acquiring those aircraft with folding blades and folding tail sections so they can fit into the ships' tight spaces.

โ€œWe are working hard to find solutions that will get us to that point.โ€

For both rotary- and fixed-wing aircraft, more powerful and advanced platforms help overcome the environmental challenges of the region.

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