The US Coast Guard (USCG) has received approval to acquire another 20 former US Navy (USN) Sikorsky H-60 helicopters, a move coming as the service looks eventually to operate an all-Sikorsky MH-60T helicopter fleet.

USCG Rear Admiral Michael Campbell on 30 November disclosed broad strokes of the service’s fleet plan, citing efforts to extend the life of its MH-60Ts and plans to acquire updated engines from GE Aerospace for the helicopters.

A US Coast Guard Sikorksy MH-60T

Source: US Coast Guard

The US Coast Guard now operates 48 Sikorksy MH-60T rescue helicopters

The USCG has said it intends eventually to operate only one helicopter type – MH-60Ts – meaning it intends at some point to divest its 98 Airbus Helicopters MH-65D/Es (AS365s).

When that might happen remains unclear. The USCG now operates 48 MH-60Ts, a variant of the H-60 Sikorsky produced for the USN. Several of the MH-60Ts are actually former navy H-60s that were converted to the USCG standard.

Campbell, the USCG’s director of acquisition programmes, says the service has received approval to acquire another 20 former navy SH-60s, though he does not say when. Those 20 aircraft are to be converted to the MH-60T standard. The USCG later clarifies that its initial phase of MH-60T fleet expansion will involve acquiring 36 of the aircraft.

Campbell adds that the USCG eventually expects to operate 127 of the Sikorsky aircraft. Some of those will be new aircraft acquired from from Sikorsky and others will be converted former Navy helicopters, but the service has not determined the numeric breakdown, it says.

The service has been clear that it intends to shift to an all-Sikorsky fleet. In fiscal year 2024 budget documents, the USCG says it intends to decommission six MH-65s.

“Reducing the size of the Coast Guard’s largest aircraft fleet eases supply chain pressure and will improve readiness of the service’s existing MH-65s during the transition to a single MH-60T fleet,” the document says.

The service is now shoring up its MH-60Ts. On 30 November, the USCG received the first of a planned 45 new MH-60T airframes from Sikorsky. The service is using those airframes – which include only the nose section, cabin and aft section of the aircraft – to refurbish its existing MH-60Ts, allowing them to be flown into the 2040s.

GE Aerospace is also developing an updated version of the MH-60T’s T700 turboshaft, and the USCG is considering possible MH-60T avionics updates, says Campbell, adding, “avionics obsolescence is very front-of-mind for the Coast Guard”.

MH-65 Dolphin helicopter aircrew from Coast Guard Air Station New Orleans - US Coast Gaurd

Source: US Coast Guard

The USCG plans to decommission Airbus MH-65s as it shifts to an all-Sikorsky MH-60T helicopter fleet

Additionally, the USCG is modifying some MH-60Ts to have folding tails and folding rotor heads – features required for the aircraft to be carried on USCG cutters. The service had previously removed that capability from the aircraft because earlier cutters lacked enough space to carry them.

But new and in-development USCG vessels – including National Security Cutters, Offshore Patrol Cutters and Polar Security Cutters – have enough room.

“We are installing or adding that capability back to those aircraft,” Campbell says. “We have a team dedicated to rebuilding folding heads and [those] will be installed on the [MH-60T] fleet going out in 2024.”

Story updated on 4 December 2023 to include new and revised information from the USCG, including its intention to acquire 36 MH-60Ts under an initial fleet expansion phase, not 27 of the aircraft.