Home » Aviation » In Budget Squeeze, Coast Guard Set to Extend Life of Dolphin Helicopter Fleet


In Budget Squeeze, Coast Guard Set to Extend Life of Dolphin Helicopter Fleet

Coast Guard members offload MH-65 Dolphin helicopters from an Air Force C-17 aircraft at Coast Guard Air Station Miami in Opa Locka, Fla., Sept. 11, 2017. Two of the Coast Guard Air Station Miami helicopters were partially disassembled and transported from Mobile, Ala., following Hurricane Irma. (U.S. Coast Guard photo)

ARLINGTON, Va. – The U.S. Coast Guard hopes to keep its aging fleet of short-range search and rescue helicopters flying for another dozen years while evaluating the potential of vertical lift studies from the Pentagon to fulfill future missions.

The Coast Guard started flying the Aerospatiale Helicopter Corp. MH-65 Dolphin in 1984. The helicopters are used on both coasts and in Alaska. During disasters, the Coast Guard loads them into cargo planes for transport to the affected areas to assist search and rescue operations. But the fleet is nearing the end of its lifespan, and a replacement has yet to be identified, Adm. Karl Schultz, the commandant of the Coast Guard, said Friday during a briefing at the annual Military Reporters and Editors conference.

“We’re watching the Department of Defense very carefully with future of vertical lift,” Schultz said. “We fly a fleet of 98 of Aerospatiale Dolphin helicopters, MH-65s. There’s no more of those being made, so that fleet of 98 is what we’ll have there.”

The Marine Corps and Army are leading the effort to develop vertical lift capabilities. The Marine Corps has used the tiltrotor MV-22 Osprey for years, and the Navy is now starting to integrate the airframe into its airwing as a replacement carrier onboard delivery aircraft for its aging fleet of 27 C-2A Greyhound turbo-prop aircraft.

However, funding for the Coast Guard is tight for a force Schultz said is nation’s first line of defense to protect borders, combat smuggling, ensure maritime traffic safety and keep ports open. The Coast Guard continually scrapes together resources and accepts cast-off equipment from the Department of Defense to accomplish its myriad of missions.

“90 percent of the Coast Guard budget is classified as non-defense discretionary funding,” Schultz said. “We were shortsighted in the past not making some of these needs known.”

A month into Fiscal Year 2019, Schultz does not have an approved budget, whereas the Department of Defense does. Congress will likely consider Coast Guard funding, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security appropriations bill, after next week’s mid-term elections.

So, with other priorities requiring funding, Schultz said the Coast Guard is determined to squeeze a decade of life out of the Dolphins.

“We’re probably looking to fly those more than 30,000 hours, so we’re into what we’re calling our MH-65 Echo upgrade,” Schultz said. “We’re going to keep those things in the air for a while, probably into 2030.”

At the same time, Schultz is preparing a gap solution, by squeezing more life out of another aging airframe, the Coast Guard’s fleet of 45 MH-60 Jayhawks. Part of the Coast Guard’s strategy includes refurbishing used Navy MH-60 Seahawks and keep them flying for about 20,000 more hours.

“I’d like to grow the 60 fleet because there’s no more 65s and we need to press in on that gap period – 2018 to early 2030 time frame,” Schultz said. “The 60s are our long-term solution, but we’ll bridging that gap.”

In FY 2018, the Coast Guard received $25 million sustain and expand the fleet of 45 MH-60 Jayhawk helicopters, and $20 million to upgrade the fleet of MH-65 Dolphins, according to the Coast Guard budget. Schultz said the active hurricane season spurred Congress to provide more money for airframes.

To recapitalize Coast Guard equipment, Schultz said he’d like to see annual appropriations of about $2 billion for buying new systems or refurbishing used equipment. The Coast Guard requested $11.65 billion total in 2019 to cover procurement, operations, personnel and other costs.

“We’ve lost 10 percent of our purchasing power in the past decade,” Schultz said. “We’ve deferred maintenance during this period.”

The Coast Guard is also refurbishing its fleet of fixed-wing aircraft. Congress funded the purchase of a 15th C-130J cargo plane in the FY 2018 budget, and Schultz hopes, if approved, funding for a 16th C-130 will remain in the FY 2019 budget. He’d like the Coast Guard to have a fleet of 22 C-130J aircraft.

Meanwhile, in 2014, the Coast Guard inherited a fleet of 14 C-27J Spartan cargo planes from the U.S. Air Force. The Coast Guard is in the process of preparing these medium-range twin-engine turboprop planes for search and rescue missions, but Schultz said they ran into a snag.

“There’s a bit of a worldwide parts shortage,” Schultz said. “We’re fielding the C-27s, and the first ones are out at our air station in Sacramento.”

  • Kypros

    The USCG always seems able to do more with less.

    • Paul 2

      And that good deed always comes punished. To twist a phrase..

  • CharleyA

    It’s pretty impressive to see the refirb / remanufacturing operation down in Elizabeth City (in a pretty old hangar, and nothing like a modern factory.) They literally tear the old -65s down to frame level, strip all the paint, make structural / corrosion repairs, then reassemble – and add updated equipment. The Echo upgrade replaces some original avionics and wiring from back in the day, and saves almost 200 lbs in the process. Hopefully they will install public safety radios as part of the upgrade – that is a critical capability for their inland missions.

  • Curtis Conway

    I wonder if the S-97 Raider could be fielded as a US Coast Guard helicopter first?

    • USNVO

      It would probably be a great fit for the H-65 mission sets, but the USCG is not going to want to do the required development, doesn’t have the infrastructure to support doing basic development, doesn’t want to be, potentially, the only customer for the aircraft, and won’t have the budget for it anyway. But if the Army decides to buy it, I would guess they would be all over it. It seems like the perfect fit for the H-65 mission, certainly way better than a tilt-rotor or some type of compound helicopter with a wing.

  • Paul 2

    I have low expectations for a smooth HH65 replacement acquisition. Something about helicopter acquisitions makes the creeps come out of the wood work. Look at the Presidential helo fiasco, or the Air Force Huey replacement debacle. Helo manufacturers must have been dropped on their heads as babies.

    • airider

      I think the MH-139 could be a contender for USCG if they can get a good deal

    • E1 Kabong

      If only Sikorsky, Bell, et al, made products that were competitive with the Europeans.
      The ONLY thing the S-70 series has going for it is cheapness.

      Same goes for American diesel engine makers.

  • Michael Lopez

    As a former member of the Navy Submarine Service, I think the Coast Guard should be placed under DOD. That way their budget could be more reliable and maybe increased to a higher level than now. The Coast Guard has always done more with less, they deserve better. And I am sure there can be a work around the Posse Comitatus Act.

    • muzzleloader

      I’m not sure the Coast Guard wants to be thrown in the hopper with the 4 other branches and the funding fights that could entail.

    • PolicyWonk

      You are right that the USCG has always had to do more with less. And if you look at the USCG’s mission set since 9/11/2001, you’ll see a huge increase in responsibilities/missions, without anywhere near the budgetary increase one would expect.

      They deserve FAR better, and deliver tremendous value to the US taxpayers. The USCG is about law enforcement more than they are about being a formal military service, despite their obvious connection to the USN throughout history.

      But given they are the first line of defense to the US homeland, across the 12k miles of shoreline (not counting US possessions, etc.), and given the claims coming out of Washington DC about the scourge of (fill in the blank)’s invading the nation, one would think they would get a substantial increase.

      But one would be wrong. Their budget recently got chopped yet again. So, the rhetoric is clearly BRAVO SIERRA, while the USCG lives with the realities, but does it with class and professionalism.

  • Desplanes

    USCG needs to start their helicopter replacement program now so that it can lurch its way through GAO protests, cancellations and restarts before the Dolphins fall apart.

    Look at what the USAF has gone through just to replace 84 helicopters to fly around the MidWest.

    • ChrisLongski

      Dauphin.

      • E1 Kabong

        English…..French….. Same animal.

        What’s next? Will you demand the accent marks be included?

        • ChrisLongski

          Noun1.dauphin – formerly, the eldest son of the King of France and direct heir to the throne
          prince – a male member of a royal family other than the sovereign (especially the son of a sovereign)

          No icthys (that’s Greek by the way) connection implied.

          • E1 Kabong

            Nope.

            Tell us what Eurocopter named that helicopter?

            What does the USCG call it?

      • Desplanes

        Right, because that’s what the USCG calls it. Oh wait, no they don’t.

        • ChrisLongski

          The model is the Eurocopter Dauphin. In a typical American corruption of language the USCG named it “Dolphin”. But wait, a Dauphin is the son of a king — not an icthys species.

          • Desplanes

            Correct. The USCG named it the Dolphin. They are operating the HH-65 Dolphin, not the Dauphin.

          • ChrisLongski

            Indeed. I have a lot of hours in USCG choppers — all Sikorsky’s before the HH-65 entered service. More rightfully, the USCG should have retained the Eurocopter name, Dauphin. In military-think, the phonetic ‘Dauphin” probably represented a icthys species. A minor point, but arcane and interesting…

          • E1 Kabong

            LMAO!

            “I have a lot of hours in USCG choppers…”?

            Lies.

            Last I checked, America’s official language is ENGLISH.

            Dauphin, the French word for DOLPHIN, was merely translated into ENGLISH.

            Keep squirming though, it’s amusing to watch.

          • E1 Kabong

            Named for a DOLPHIN….

            What’s French for “dolphin”, wonder boy?

          • ChrisLongski

            Dauphin. First son of a king.

          • Old Coasty

            Dauphin of France (French: Dauphin de France [dofɛ̃ də fʁɑ̃s]), originally Dauphin of Viennois (Dauphin de Viennois), was the title given to the heir apparent to the throne of France from 1350 to 1791 and 1824 to 1830.[1] The word dauphin is French for dolphin. At first the heirs were granted the County of Viennois (Dauphiné) to rule, but eventually only the title was granted.

            Both of you are correct and wrong.

          • ChrisLongski

            I didn’t find the dauphin/dolphin icthys association but perhaps I didn’t look far enough. It’s just an affinity from many English/speech/communication classes. There are many English corruptions I always look for, like “parting shot”. Actually, it should be Parthian Shot… Minor distinctions but they were drilled into me. Nice to see a fellow old Coasty chime in.

            Didja know ! I couldn’t attend the sniper competition at Fort Benning this year (I live real close by) but saw a streamed version. The USCG sniper team beat out the Marines ! I was laughing for two days…

          • E1 Kabong

            Blah, blah, blah…

            Keep squirming, it’s amusing me.

            What does the USCG call the MH-65?

          • vetww2

            A patrol helicopter. Nothing more, nothing less.

          • E1 Kabong

            Wrong.

            Go ahead, check out the USCG website.

            Get back to me with an apology.

          • E1 Kabong

            Nope.

            Tell us what Eurocopter named that helicopter?

            What does the USCG call it?

            I’m right…

          • E1 Kabong

            Dauphin = French word for DOLPHIN

          • Old Coasty

            Dauphin of France (French: Dauphin de France [dofɛ̃ də fʁɑ̃s]), originally Dauphin of Viennois (Dauphin de Viennois), was the title given to the heir apparent to the throne of France from 1350 to 1791 and 1824 to 1830.[1] The word dauphin is French for dolphin. At first the heirs were granted the County of Viennois (Dauphiné) to rule, but eventually only the title was granted.

            You both are correct and wrong.

          • E1 Kabong

            Nope.

            Tell us what Eurocopter named that helicopter?

            What does the USCG call it?

            I’m right.

  • RobM1981

    What “budget squeeze?” Does the USCG have less this year than they did last year? If so, that’s pretty common for a lot of us… how MUCH less? Unless they have 5% less, or more, let’s not talk about a “budget squeeze,” alright?

    The opinion of “this isn’t enough money for our first line of defense” is demonstrably false. I don’t see North Korean amphibs offloading in Monterey, do you? Keep your hat on, Admiral – your brain is getting cold.

    • USNVO

      Leaving comments that make it appear you actually read the article and not intentionally misquoting from said article might make your posts more interesting and topical. Additionally, logically extending the argument makes it appear you have a well thought out position and some understanding of the topic you are pontificating on.

      So to explain the USCG Budget Squeeze, they bought a bunch of new equipment in the 80s and 90s, like all their H-65s and H-60s, and they are all aging out at the same time and need to be replaced. Plus, in the interest of being good stewards of the money allotted to them, they don’t want to buy an existing helo when there is something potentially way better available in the near future for their mission set, like the S-97 (there are others as well). Hence, the interim plan to extend the life of their Helos.

  • PBAR

    Defense of the Homeland is priority #1 and yet the only service that is primarily dedicated to defending the Homeland, the Coast Guard, is chronically underfunded. All the while DoD has money to waste on stupid things like different camo uniforms for each service, etc.

    • John J Kaye

      Yeah, like the Air Force buying more coffee cups that keep breaking for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Talk about wasting money.

  • E1 Kabong

    Well, I’m not.

    But, typical for a Yank, you assume there’s no other country outside your borders…

    So put that dope in yer pipe and suck on it…

  • vetww2

    It may be time to merge the two sea services? The Coast Guard could take the littoral, and the Navy can retain the open ocean.