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FB: Ospreys for search and rescue? Air Force studying putting PJs in Ospreys for rescue missions.

The Air Force is looking at big changes to its combat search and rescue fleet, possibly using the tilt rotor Osprey to carry pararescuemen in addition to its new combat rescue helicopter, Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh said Wednesday.

the top Air Force general said today

The service flies 67 aging HH-60G Pave Hawks to carry its Guardian Angel rescue airmen into combat to rescue troops. The service plans to replace the Pave Hawks them with the recently named HH-60W next-generation Black Hawk, and it awarded a $1.2 billion contract for 112 helicopters to a joint Sikorsky and Lockheed-Martin team last year.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh said the service has for the past six months studied ways to incorporate Air Force Special Operations Command's CV-22 Ospreys into the combat search and rescue, noting that there are scenarios where the faster tilt rotors could be a better fit for rescues.

The service's current fleet of 33 Ospreys is used for long-range infiltration, exfiltration and resupply for special operations troops.

"This is an evolution," Welsh said today at an event sponsored by Defense One in Washington, D.C. "What's better depends on the scenario."

For example, if a crew needs to rescue someone in a small clearing or outcropping on a ledge, a more nimble helicopter would be a better fit. But, if a crew needs to cover a lot of ground quickly, for example in flat land in Africa, an Osprey would get there and back faster. Welsh noted the 2011 rescue of a downed F-15E pilot in Libya by a Marine Corps MV-22.

"We're looking at, right now, a concept of operations that combines the two," Welsh said.

A decision would require changes to the fleet, which is still growing. The Air Force would need to reconfigure the back end of the Ospreys to be able to fit a pararescue crew.

A decision to use both aircraft would also require cooperation between two Air Force major commands. The rescue mission, Pave Hawks and pararescuemen are assigned to Air Combat Command, while Ospreys are a part of Air Force Special Operations Command.