Howard Gethin/LONDON

The UK armed services are investigating possible solutions to a requirement for a combat search and rescue capability (CSAR) as a result of experience in the Bosnia conflict and the priority being given to out-of-area operations in the recent defence review.

The Royal Navy Commando helicopter force and the Royal Air Force have made separate studies into the CSAR mission, including practice exercises at squadron level.

Exact details remain classified, but the two services are believed to have formulated different approaches to CSAR. The RN's efforts have focused on using the Commando Helicopter force's expertise in low-level night-vision-goggle operations with the Westland Sea King HC4. The service is understood to have made use of expertise from the USA in CSAR communications procedures following joint missions in Bosnia. The RN Commando force has also operated with French CSAR-dedicated Eurocopter Pumas and Italian Sikorsky SH-3 helicopters in CSAR scenarios during exercise Strong Resolve earlier this year.

The RAF Air Warfare Centre has already studied use of the UK SAR force's Westland Sea King HAR3A. Two RAF Sea King HAR3s participated in Exercise Purple Star in the USA in 1996 and practised CSAR techniques. Both services are believed to be considering joint missions within the Joint Helicopter Force, to be established in the UK next year. "There is not a formal CSAR capability, but there soon will be," says one pilot involved in CSAR studies.

Although no formal requirement has yet been established, the UK Ministry of Defence has already approached Israeli manufacturer Tadiran Spectralink for information about its airborne search and rescue system, consisting of the aircraft-mounted ASR700 homer and PLC434 pilot locator beacon. The system is in use by the French and Italian forces.

The MoD denies that a formal project is under way, stating that "-there is no requirement in the short term".

Source: Flight International