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Air Force rescue helicopters may be looking at a serious upgrade in firepower based on a new gun mount. Designed by the 943rd Rescue Group at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona, the doorway gun mount would arm HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters with four additional M240 machine guns. 

Currently, the HH-60G Pave Hawk fields two of either the GAU-2C 7.62mm minigun, the GAU 18/A .50 caliber machine gun, or M240 machine gun, located forward of the main troop compartment. The addition of four M240s — attached as a linked pair mounted on each side — would effectively triple the aircraft’s firepower, bringing the number of its onboard weapons from two to six.

Two M240 machine guns are mounted inside an HH-60G Pave Hawk Nov. 22, 2022, at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz. The 943rd Rescue Group designed a concept to mount four additional M240s onto HH-60Gs to provide more firepower to the 920th Rescue Wing’s personnel recovery task force in contested environments. (U.S. Air Force photo by Andre Trinidad)

That could mean a Pave Hawk armed with, say, two GAU-2C 7.62mm miniguns with ranges of up to 1,000 meters firing up to 2,000 rounds per minute, or two GAU 18/A .50 caliber machine guns with firing rates of 650 to 800 rounds per minute at ranges of up to 1,800 meters, alongside two twin M240 machine gun mounts, each carrying 1,200 rounds of ammunition and capable of raining down fire at 650 rounds a minute at targets up to 1,800 meters away. 

“The M240 is multi-capable equipment for our personnel recovery task force that will enable us to perform contested-area combat search and rescue, logistics under attack, and agile combat employment,” said Col. Jes Hamilton, commander of the 920th Rescue Wing, in an Air Force announcement. “It will increase our offensive and defensive capabilities, at an extremely low cost, and give us flexibility for air and land use around the world.”

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The new concept was designed entirely using parts that are already in military inventories, with the goal of adding four additional weapons to the aircraft’s armament. The base stand came from an existing cooperative project within the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve. The bracket to mount it to the floor of the aircraft came from one previously used by the 55th and 71st Special Operations Squadrons to mount .50 caliber machine guns. For the weapons themselves, the Air Force turned to the MK99, which mounts two M240 machine guns and 1,200 rounds of ammunition and is commonly used on Navy patrol craft. 

Two M240s are mounted inside an HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter Nov. 22, 2022, at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona. The 943d Rescue Group designed a concept to mount four additional M240 machine guns onto HH-60G helicopters to provide more firepower to the 920th Rescue Wing’s personnel recovery task force in contested environments. (Andre Trinidad/U.S. Air Force)

The HH-60G Pave Hawk is designed to carry any of its three weapons systems, with the standard configuration being any combination of two of those three. The Air Force initially considered adding additional .50 caliber machine guns, but the torque they generated was too much for the aircraft. Adding additional miniguns was also disqualified because it would take too much power to operate both weapons.

With the HH-60G Pave Hawk scheduled for retirement, the gun mount is also compatible with the newer HH-60W Jolly Green II model. 

In a typical rescue scenario, one of these gunships would provide escort to a Combat Search and Rescue task force. The guns can also be quickly removed, according to the Air Force, should the aircraft need to be used for rescue operations. 

“As we perform forward operations at the edge of the battlespace, we will have multi-capable equipment that can be operated by multi-capable Airmen,” said Lt. Col. Joe Romeo, 943rd Security Forces Squadron commander. “As ACE (Agile Combat Employment) operations advance, this airborne platform can become a land-based, defensive fighting position to defend an Initial Contingency Location/Temporary Contingency Location or ICL-Forward.”

In layman’s terms, that means a search and rescue helicopter that packs an even more serious punch. 

The next step, according to the Air Force, will be operational testing with the Air Guard Air Reserve Test Center.

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