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Congressman, Former SEAL Pushing to Keep Helicopter Combat Squadrons in Navy Budget

A U.S. Navy SEAL fast ropes from an HH-60H Sea Hawk helicopter assigned to the High Rollers of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 85 onto a gas and oil platform in July 2011. US Navy photo.

A U.S. Navy SEAL fast ropes from an HH-60H Sea Hawk helicopter assigned to the High Rollers of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 85 onto a gas and oil platform in July 2011. US Navy photo.

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.”

Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.). Photo courtesy Ryan Zinke congressional website.

Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.). Photo courtesy Ryan Zinke congressional website.

“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.”

  • The_Usual_Suspect61

    I was under the impression that HSC 84 & 85 were the only HSC squadrons capable of supporting SOF. So, how is the mission going to be accomplished without them?

    • Ruckweiler

      The_Usual_Suspect61:
      Maybe the Navy thinks they’ll just bring back the Seawolves HA(L)-3 who supported SEAL operations in Vietnam.

  • Tom Fortin

    Zenke’s a BEAST and knows SPECOPS first hand! He’s absolutely right about insisting on a replacement before disestablishing anything.

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  • Blackfrog4

    HSC-84 and 85 are direct decendants of HA(L)-3 so there isn’t a another option with the history, tradition, and experience those two squadrons have.
    All HSC squadron have SOF support training in their training syllabi. It is not as extensive as 84/85 training but they do have some limited experience.
    As of right now the plan is for SOCOM assets to take on addition training hours to cover part of the hours that will be lost and also cover all of the operational hours. The Navy will have the HSC squadrons cover the rest of the training hours.
    Most of the FTS and Reserve personnel are transfering to Tactical Support Units so that the Navy can retain the experience. They are still workign on how to use the TSUs and where to place them with the active duty force.

    • m134 gunner

      HSC-84/85’s pipeline gives extensive training that instils a level of operational instinct in their crews, not simply exposure to the mission. This level of training is required to limit risk to force and risk to mission. Even training is dangerous, and 84/85 take this into account to limit the probability and severity of potential mishaps. Extensive training is done prior to doing live training evolutions. Extensive love training is done prior to operational deployments for crew members. These units have the SOPs, TTPs, and organizational experience to mitigate risk where margins for error are low.

  • Curtis Conway

    With force draw-downs, and a stated emphasis on SOF assets and support, one is left wondering what the US Navy is thinking, within the greater context. Retaining the capability, not balancing the budget, should be the focus in this situation, given current world situation. If we loose people (Special Operators) due to their change . . . due to destruction of team integrity, we will have done the Navy, and the Nation, a disservice. this is parsing ‘bone & marrow’ stuff.

  • Blackfrog4

    Not that I am defending Big Navy on this, but I suspect it has to do with the fact that the Navy does partrol the other 80%+ of the world that is not involved with special operations. They are trying to keep other hot spots from boiling over. Western Pacific, Indian Ocean, The Baltic, the Black Sea, the Med, The waters off the Horn of Africa. Global Stregic Deterence missions, partner nation training, etc. Big gray boats cost money. Oh yeah and two huge procurement blunders in the JSF and the LCS. Not a lot of money left over to a mission that falls well below the others in the eyes of the Navy.