Rescue by Air/Sea (ASR)
The Coast Guard, Navy, and Air Force conduct search-and-rescue missions in US waterways. This applies to people who have gone missing at sea and downed airmen. According to the Coast Guard, 95 percent of all sea rescue missions occur within 20 miles of the shoreline. In addition, 90% of these incidents involve only rescue and no search. This is largely due to distress beacons installed on boats and planes, which provide the Coast Guard with a high probability of quickly locating a person in distress. Because the less time they spend looking, the more people they can save, a limited or nonexistent search is ideal. It’s also less dangerous for SAR teams and costs less money. The Coast Guard spends more than $50 million per year on the 10% of missions that involve a search [source: US Coast Guard].
Any Air/Sea Rescue (ASR) team’s mission is simple: get people out of the water before they drown in the merciless sea. Rescue swimmers are dropped into the ocean by helicopter from heights of up to 60 feet, sometimes into 10-20 foot waves and shark-infested waters. The downed airman is frequently tangled in parachute lines or still attached to his ejection seat, battling survival. While being pelted by 100-knot winds from the helicopter’s rotors, the rescue swimmer must not only save the survivor’s life but also avoid being pulled under himself.
Rescue swim training in the Navy and Coast Guard is among the most difficult in the military, with a 50% dropout rate [source: military.com]. Potential SAR swimmers must be from the military’s aviation branch and undergo training related to the helicopter they’ll be assigned to. Students learn the following in addition to physical endurance training and a medical training course:
- Procedures for deploying water
- Approaching, transporting, and releasing survival techniques
- Methods for removing a survivor’s gear
- Methods for untangling
- Skills in pre-hospital life support
The importance of combat SAR in modern warfare will be discussed in the next section.
SAR in combat (CSAR)
Each American soldier’s life is valuable, and combat search and rescue has evolved into one of the most crucial operations in modern warfare. In reality, after combat operations, CSAR units are among the first to reach behind enemy lines. The US Air Force has been designated as the lead in CSAR missions by the Department of Defense. Whenever an aircraft is lost, or a soldier is separated from his unit, the Air Force CSAR is dispatched to find, contact, and retrieve him.
The CSAR units’ other operational responsibilities include:
- Evacuations for medical reasons
- Intelligence support for the rescue
- Rescue equipment configuration
- Self-defense during airdrops of supplies and people
- Training in the field of rescue
The Air Force now operates two operating systems with two separate aircraft. The HC-130 is designed for long-range search and rescue missions in low-to-no-threat situations. It also offers search helicopters with in-flight refueling to increase the mission’s range. The HH-60 helicopter is used for search and recovery in a medium-threat case. Each surgery can be carried out at any time of day or night. If the enemy danger is low enough, the helicopters will drop paramedic rescuers in an emergency medical scenario. Support planes use air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles and artillery to keep the adversary at bay.
The most crucial phase in a CSAR mission is identifying the source of a distress call. Because the adversary may monitor and jam radio frequencies, discrete ground-to-air communications are essential for a successful evacuation of a soldier in distress. After contact is established, the CSAR team must first obtain information on the soldier’s physical condition. The authentication procedure is then started. The soldier’s name and rank and unit numbers, colors, and letters are routinely relayed. The isolated personnel will not get help until the authentication process is completed. The opponent can steal authentication data if supplied in full over the radio. The CSAR team will instruct the soldier to add, subtract, or multiply particular numbers in the authentication code before relaying the results. This permits the soldier to repeat the principles in the future without fear of being hacked.
We’ll look at some of the strategies civilian SAR teams employ in missing person searches in the following section.