AT SEA --
U.S. Marine Corps CH-46E Sea Knight helicopters with Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 364 landed aboard the future amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6), Aug. 24. The CH-46s boarded America after completing their participation in the multi-lateral humanitarian assistance and disaster relief exercise Partnership of the Americas 2014.
The completion of the POA exercise signifies the end of the CH-46’s 50 years of forward operational presence. HMM-364 and the four aircraft are embarked aboard America for transit back to San Diego where they will be officially retired.
HMM-364, dubbed the Purple Foxes, supported the exercise by airlifting U.S. Marines and disaster relief supplies from LHSD Sargento Aldea, a Chilean ship, to a landing zone in Pichidangui, Chile. The HA/DR exercise was based on a simulated tsunami scenario.
“Our primary job was showcasing the amphibious operations capabilities, particularly in regards to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief,” said Maj. Brian Santucci, operations officer for HMM-364, and a native of Sierra Vista, Ariz. “Basically doing ship to shore movement of personnel and cargo to assist in a natural disaster.”
The use of the CH-46 in POA also carried much significance for its operational history in the region.
“This is the first time in a very long time that the CH-46 has been to Chile,” said Santucci. “It is going to be the last time an operational CH-46 squadron will deploy outside of the United States.”
The first CH-46 helicopters were procured by the Marine Corps in 1962 and were introduced into the fleet during the Vietnam conflict in 1964. The Sea Knight has been utilized for assault support in all Marine Corps combat and peacetime environments since its introduction.
“It was introduced in Vietnam and was massively employed for the war effort there,” said Sgt. Daniel Zawicki, MV-22 crew chief with Marine Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron 22 (VMX-22). “Every event since then, where we needed Marines, it has been there; from the Gulf War to Somalia, all the way up until the initial invasion of Iraq. It has always been there for assault support.”
The Marine Corps is phasing out the Sea Knight for the newer MV-22 Osprey. When the CH-46 was introduced, it was capable of transporting 24 combat loaded troops. However, the weight of combat loaded troops has increased, reducing the number of troops the aircraft can carry. The Osprey’s unique design and functionality meets the needs of transporting today’s warfighters.
“The mission of the MV-22, like the CH-46, is assault support, the movement of troops,” said Maj. Alex Hedman, assistant operations officer for VMX-22. “It can go about 3 times as far and about 3 times as fast as the CH-46. The engines are also significantly larger so we get a lot more power out of it.”
The MV-22 has been continuously deployed in extreme environmental conditions since 2007. Its deployments include Iraq, Afghanistan and aboard Navy ships for amphibious operations.
“Combat in the traditional sense was along the costal zones,” said Hedman. “However, what the MV-22 brings to the flight is we go well beyond the forward edge of the battle area, we go well beyond enemy lines and deep into enemy airspace. We’ll go deep into enemy territory at much greater speed and carry more troops as we’re doing it.”
In its 50th year of military service, the Sea Knight has built a legacy that will be remembered forever. Its replacement by a newer aircraft does not erase the decades of unparalleled service it has provided.
“The 46 is one of the greatest legacies of any aircraft out there,” said Zawicki. “The transition is easy but I’m always going to miss the 46. I don’t think we would be transitioning if the Marine Corps weren’t going to benefit. Combined with the other assets of a MAGTF I think the Osprey is going to be perfect.”
All operational Sea Knight squadrons have transitioned to the Osprey with the exception of HMM-364 and Marine Medium Helicopter Training Squadron 164, which will transition by April 2015.
HMM-364 is currently aboard America with the Marines and Sailors of SPMAGTF-South in Support of her maiden transit, “America Visits the Americas.” A SPMAGTF is a balanced air, ground and logistics force that can be tailored to accomplished missions across a wide range of crises. The Marines and Sailors of the SPMAGTF are demonstrating the flexibility, unity and unparalleled expeditionary capability the Navy-Marine Corps team provides our nation and partners.