The October issue of AFM completes our analysis of the Republic of China Air Force (ROCAF), turning attention to its transport and liaison, search and rescue, and training assets – and prospects for the future.
Established in 1954, the Air Rescue Group’s tasks include aerial search and rescue (SAR), disaster relief, emergency medical services and transportation. When severe weather or typhoons strike the island, causing flooding, landslides or other damage, all available helicopters will support rescue and relief operations.
Another important task of the ‘Seagull Squadron’ is transporting ill or injured people to hospitals from hard to access areas such as mountains or from vessels in the seas surrounding Taiwan.
The Chiayi-based Air Rescue Group is equipped with 16 S-70C and three EC225 helicopters and has detachments at Songshan (in the city of Taipei) in the north of the island and Taitung in the south. Fifteen minutes’ readiness is provided during daytime while night-time readiness varies between 20 and 45 minutes, depending on location. A standard C-130H can be dispatched for SAR tasks from Pingtung within 45 minutes if required.
The Air Rescue Group received 14 S-70C Bluehawks in June 1986 to replace its UH-1H ‘Hueys’ – four S-70C-1s for VIP transport and ten S-70C-1As for SAR missions. In April 1998, four S-70C-6 Super Bluehawks arrived, equipped with a Hover Infrared Suppression System (HIRSS), weather radar, AN/AAQ-20 forward-looking infrared (FLIR) sensor and an SX-16 Nightsun searchlight to enhance all-weather and night SAR capability.
To expand its rotary SAR fleet, in January 2010 Taiwan ordered three EC225s, which entered service in July 2012. Compared with the S-70C, the EC225 SAR variant is more powerful with lower vibration levels and an increased payload. It also flies at a faster cruising speed at a longer range and has a higher level of automation thanks to advanced avionics.
An option to purchase 17 additional EC225s to replace the S-70C-1/A fleet has not been taken up, probably due to budgetary restrictions. Instead, the Taiwanese Ministry of National Defense decided to allocate 15 UH-60M Black Hawks to the ROCAF from a total of 60 UH-60Ms on order.
These 60 helicopters are part of an arms package signed with the United States in 2010 to replace the Republic of China Army (ROCA) UH-1H fleet. Priority was given to supplying the ROCAF with new UH-60Ms because the S-70C-1/As are rapidly approaching their maximum airframe hours, and it’s become harder to obtain certain spares through commercial channels.
The UH-60M’s powerful propulsion system – including the latest General Electric T700-701D turboshafts and wide-chord composite main rotor blades – makes it well suited for rescue missions at high altitudes.
The first two UH-60Ms withdrew from the ROCA inventory and transferred to the Air Rescue Group at Chiayi last December. The next six arrived at Kaohsiung Port on July 19 before flying to their new base at Chiayi the following day after reassembly, inspections and (flight) testing.
The final seven ROCAF UH-60Ms are scheduled for delivery this December.