The defense authorization bill the House will debate this week includes a provision from a congressman and retired Navy SEAL that prevents the Navy from disestablishing Helicopter Sea Combat Squadrons 84 and 85.
These U.S. Navy Reserve squadrons use the HH-60H Rescue Hawk helicopter and are responsible for training SEALs. HSC-84 is based at Chambers Field at Naval Station Norfolk, Va., and HSC-85 is based at Naval Air Station North Island, Calif.
Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.), a former SEAL task force commander who established the Naval Special Warfare Advanced Training Command, said he didn’t want to see these two squadrons retired “until dedicated units have been identified and have been well trained to pick up the responsibility.”
“This is the only option for the SEALs and [explosive ordnance disposal units] to train,” Zinke said during the House Armed Services Committee markup of the bill on April 29.
“Retiring them without identifying what the replacement is – and I’ve talked to the [chief of naval operations], he agrees that there are replacement aircraft, he agrees there will be a plan to replace the mission with [new] aircraft – that requires training, it requires fast rope training and qualifications, and until those assets are identified and they’re trained I’m asking that we not retire these.”
Zinke said during the markup that the cuts were proposed for budgetary reasons.
Navy spokeswoman Lt. Cdr. Nicole Schwegman told USNI News that, “while I am unable to discuss pending legislation, the current fiscal environment mandated that all assets be scrutinized, funding prioritized and capabilities optimized to meet mission requirements. After careful review, the Navy determined that continued, yet limited, special operations support to address combatant commander priorities will still be achievable with the remaining HSC squadrons.”
USNI News understands that, though the Navy pays for these squadrons, the training requirement comes from U.S. Special Operations Command which, particularly in light of tight budgets, was comfortable with finding alternate means to provide that training if HSC 84 and 85 were disestablished.
Zinke spokeswoman Heather Swift told USNI News that the congressman disagrees that an appropriate alternative is in place.
“Zinke is fighting to keep the helicopter squadrons because they are highly specialized teams that exclusively support special operations,” she said.
“Zinke believes that losing this capability and not having a legitimate alternative in place would jeopardize Special Operation Forces’ ability to properly train forces and carry out high-risk missions.”