Among options eyed by the U.S. Coast Guard for a replacement of the service’s Airbus MH-65 Dolphin–first fielded in 1984–are the SB-1 Defiant prototype under development for the U.S. Army by Boeing [BA] and Sikorsky [LMT], the Leonardo AW139 , and some variant of the MH-60 by Sikorsky, according to defense industry sources.
“Something has to happen by 2024,” said one defense industry source. The Coast Guard has 98 MH-65s in service.
While the MH-65 was to phase out in 2027, the Coast Guard is undertaking a service life extension program (SLEP) to prolong the Dolphin’s service life until 2035-39. The aircraft has also received avionics upgrades and, since 2007, new Turbomeca Arriel 2C2-CG engines that have added 40 percent more power.
Last October, Coast Guard Commandant Karl Schultz said that the service was undertaking the SLEP of the MH-65 to save money for other acquisition programs, as the Coast Guard has a fraction of the recapitalization budget of the other military services and sometimes accepts older equipment from the other services to perform its missions, including maritime patrol, counter drug operations, and border and port security.
Schultz said the Coast Guard was watching developments in the Army Future Vertical Lift program “very carefully.”
Upgrades to the MH-65E configuration at the Coast Guard Aviation Logistics Center in Elizabeth City, N.C., include replacing analog automatic flight control with digital systems, such as Collins Aerospace [UTX] automatic flight control system control panels, and installing digital weather radar systems and digital glass cockpit instruments.
Last August, the Coast Guard awarded a nearly $16 million contract to Airbus Helicopters to buy three “critical airworthy structural components” as part of the SLEP for the MH-65.
The Coast Guard has used the MH-65 for search and rescue and Medevac missions.
The helicopter is the only Coast Guard aircraft used aboard certified cutters during deployments, the service said.