As the Coast Guard waits for opportunities to emerge in a decade or more with future rotary-wing designs, in the interim the service is looking at expanding its fleet of MH-60T Jayhawk helicopters and drawing down its number of shorter-range MH-65 Dolphin helicopters, which are no longer in production, Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz said on Thursday.

The MH-60T aircraft, which are from the same family of helicopters as the Army Blackhawk and Navy Seahawk helicopters, “has a robust domestic industrial base that can help buy down our operating risk in the decade ahead,” Schultz said during his annual State of the Coast Guard speech.

Schultz also said the Coast Guard is beginning to demonstrate a blade-fold/tail-fold capability with the MH-60Ts that “will enable deployment aboard National Security Cutters, and our future Polar Security and Offshore Patrol Cutters.” The engineering work on the blade-fold/tail-fold capability is done but the deployment concept still needs to be proven and will likely occur in the next 12 to 18 months, he said.

The MH-60Ts can currently operate from the Coast Guard’s 270-foot medium endurance cutters and the NSC but they can’t be hangered so they remain on the flight deck, which subjects them to environmental elements. The blade-fold/tail-fold capability will allow the aircraft to be hangered.

The more compact MH-60Ts will probably deploy initially aboard the Polar Security Cutters (PSC), Schultz said. The first PSC is slated to be delivered in 2024 and the Coast Guard plans to buy at least three of the heavy polar icebreakers.

The PSCs will replace the Coast Guard’s lone heavy icebreaker, the Polar Star, which typically conducts an annual relief mission to a U.S. science station in Antarctica. Schultz said that Coast Guard does Antarctic Treaty inspection activities and the MH-60 aircraft will expand its capabilities in this regard.

The Coast Guard currently has nine NSCs with two more in production and the first of 25 Offshore Patrol Cutters is expected to be delivered in late 2022.

Schultz said the Coast Guard is thinking through its aviation bridging strategy between now and when it is able to acquire a future rotary-wing capability.

“But now is the time to be thinking into that challenge set,” he said.

Later, during a virtual roundtable with reporters, Schultz said that given the MH-65s are out of production, that means finding spare parts is an issue. He also said the aircraft are hampered with corrosion issues due to operating in the maritime environment, which takes a lot of the aircraft out of service.

The mission profile for the MH-65 is around 90 minutes and for the MH-60 more than four hours, so deploying MH-60Ts aboard the Coast Guard’s larger surface vessels “Increases the bubble around our ship, our ability to be effective,” he said.

The Coast Guard currently has 45 MH-60Ts and 98 MH-65s. The MH-60s are undergoing a sustainment effort to add 10,000 more hours to the current 20,000 service life limit that the fleet will begin reaching in 2023.

To extend the life of its MH-60 fleet, the Coast Guard is obtaining replacement hulls from retired Navy aircraft and new hulls produced by Lockheed Martin’s [LMT] Sikorsky business unit, the original manufacturer of the H-60 helicopters. The Coast Guard is doing the sustainment work at its Aviation Logistics Center in North Carolina.

To build up its fleet of MH-60s, Schultz said the Coast Guard could use older Navy H-60s that have 8,000 to 9,000 hours on them already and increase their service life to 20,000 hours.

The Coast Guard is looking to sustain its legacy helicopter fleet until at least the mid-2030s to hopefully take advantage of advancements the Army is currently working on under its Future Vertical Lift program. The Coast Guard typically purchases mature designs for its surface and air assets.

The MH-65s were built by a division of Europe’s Airbus Group. Schultz said that as more MH-60T aircraft are added to the fleet, the MH-65s will still perform missions like airspace security in the National Capital Region and for Coast Guard sniper operations to take out the engines of drug-running speed boats in the open sea.