With the U.S. Navy developing more aviation-related equipment, systems and platforms to handle anti-submarine warfare (ASW) operations, the number of mishaps related to those missions is increasing.
The Navy’s intended ASW champions are the(“Romeo”) Seahawk helicopters, and those aircraft are listed among the leaders for Class A mishaps involving naval aircraft, according to the Navy Safety Center website.
The Navy is quick to assert that none of the data or operations indicate any safety problems with the helicopters themselves, but appear to be related to growing pains with added ASW systems. “The 60 has a superb safety record,” Cmdr. Mike Kafka says.
The Center lists 11 total Class A mishaps for the current fiscal year thus far: five “flight” and another six “flight-related” incidents. Two of the flight Class-A mishaps involved MH-60s, one an MH-60S, or Sierra, variant that was lost in the Red Sea last month, and another Romeo that suffered a “hard landing” in December.
But three of the six flight-related Class A mishaps involved Romeos with problems concerning the helicopters, the Center website says.
An airborne low-frequency sonar “departed” or separated from an MH-60R helicopter July 27 during an ASW training flight in the Coral Sea. Another airborne low-frequency sonar transducer assembly “departed” an MH-60R Feb. 27 during another ASW training flight in Cherry Point, N.C., and a similar assembly departed an MH-60R during an inflight operational check Jan. 24 off the coast of Andros Island, Bahamas.
“The investigations are still ongoing,” Kafka says. “But no single issue appears to be the reason. It would be inaccurate to attribute any of these to the airframe.”
The AN/AQS-22 airborne low-frequency sonar (ALFS) carried by the Romeo for ASW missions is made by. The helicopter ASW package is a key component for future Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) deployments.
“We’ve been in full-rate production for four years,” says Joe Monti, ALFS program director. “But introduction to the fleet has been fairly new — only a couple of years ago. There are learning and growing pains.”
Kafka agrees. “In all aviation [operations] you find issues,” he says. “You fix them. You make modifications.”
Overall, the number of mishaps, and accompanying Class A mishap rates, remain on the decline for the Navy.
“The mishap rate through 19 September was 0.50 with four mishaps, the best rate in history through this date,” the service notes on its Navy Safety Center website. “At this pace fiscal (20)13 would end the year as the best year ever and with a lower rate than the fiscal (20)08-(20)12 rate of 1.09 (50 mishaps).”