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Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR)
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Combat Search and Rescue

The Mission. Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) is a specialized task performed by specially trained and equipped rescue forces to effect the recovery of distressed personnel during wartime or contingency operations. The Search and Rescue Task Force (SARTF) may be a sizeable force or simply a single rescue helicopter, depending on the threat and the friendly forces available. Although rescue helicopters may operate independently, certain scenarios dictate the use of a larger SARTF. The rescue task force may include A-10 SANDYs, Rescue Combat Air Patrol (RESCAP), HC-130 tankers, recovery vehicles, AWACS, Airborne Forward Air Controllers (AFAC), pararescue personnel, and AC-130s.

A SANDY is a specially qualified and dedicated A-10 pilot trained in search procedures, survivor location and authentication techniques, and helicopter support tactics. The lead SANDY will be the On-Scene Commander (OSC) for CSAR missions. The SANDY mission is extremely complex and demanding. Careful consideration is given to the pilot's skill and experience level when designating an Hog pilot SANDY qualified. Each pilot in the four-ship SANDY flight is specially trained for his individual role. SANDY One is the overall On-Scene Commander (OSC) and coordinates communications with the SARTF and the survivor. SANDY Two is his "book keeper" and assistant in the coordinating process. Sandy Three and SANDY Four are trained and are responsible for rescue helicopter escort into the pickup area.

Command, Control, and Communications. USAF CSAR efforts are controlled by the USAF component Rescue Coordination Center (RCC) in coordination with a Joint Search and Rescue Center (JSRC). The RCC obtains survivor authentication information from individual unit intelligence sections for use during actual combat recoveries. Throughout the CSAR mission, the RCC monitors the status of all employed assets. The On-Scene Commander (OSC) -- typically SANDY One -- is the individual designated by the senior controlling agency to coordinate efforts at the rescue site. Any aircraft commander may assume OSC responsibilities upon observing or contacting a distressed aircraft, a bailout, or survivors on the ground. It is preferable to use an OA-10 Airborne Forward Air Controller (AFAC) in this role until relieved by a qualified SANDY. If a SANDY-qualified A-10 pilot is on station, the AFAC will pass on-scene command to the SANDY-qualified flight. The AFAC will normally remain on station to support the CSAR.

Voice radio contact with the survivor is highly desirable, although not mandatory. If the survivor has a personal survival radio (or if an electronic search is conducted on the assumption that the survivor does), the recovery task force may have to use Ultra-High Frequency (UHF) radio transmissions for at least a portion of the mission. However, everyone can monitor UHF transmissions, including the enemy. If the survivor has a specially designed PRC-112 survival radio, location of the survivor can be accomplished with minimum communication with special locating equipment carried aboard some A-10s.

Planning. No fighter pilot plans to get shot down behind enemy lines and no special forces teams plan to be isolated with no escape route. Planning for a CSAR is therefore a reaction to circumstances rather than a deliberate act. The SARTF is organized before hand to deal with this time-sensitive contingency. Roles and missions are carefully designated and participants constantly trained to perform these critical missions:

The Airborne Mission Commander (AMC) Role. The AMC role can be divided into two phases: (1) the airborne coordinator and organizer of assets for the mission and (2) the manager and director of these forces. The AMC can be located aboard the Rescue HC-130, Airborne Battlefield Command and Control Center (ABCCC), AWACS, Naval assets, or as dictated by the Rescue Coordination Center (RCC). When the AMC is on the HC-130, the call sign may be KING.

The AMC will respond to any distressed aircraft. If the aircraft is still flying, the AMC will locate an escort for the damaged aircraft, alert ground personnel, and coordinate with all necessary agencies to ensure safe arrival and landing of the aircraft. If an aircraft is missing, the AMC will organize a search and coordinate for additional support. The AMC will continue to coordinate the search until the evaders have been located or until the search is abandoned.

Once the survivor(s) have been located, the AMC will coordinate forces needed for a successful pickup and appoint an On-Scene Commander (OSC). This can be a fighter (SANDY-qualified A-10 preferred), AFAC, or any other aircraft that has pinpointed the survivor. The AMC and OSC will decide if an immediate pickup is possible. If the evaders are located in a relatively secure or friendly area, the AMC will attempt to coordinate for the nearest helicopter or ground party to effect the pickup. If the evaders are located in a hostile area, the AMC and the OSC will determine what forces are necessary to neutralize the threat. Finally, the AMC will coordinate for a SARTF via the Rescue Coordination Center (RCC) network. Once the SANDYs arrive on the scene, SANDY One will accept OSC responsibility and work with the AMC, the AFAC, and other forces to ensure a successful pickup.

A-10 SANDYs. SANDYS can be launched or diverted from another tasked mission. The A-10 can carry most of the ordnance required in CSAR operations (e.g., rockets, CBU, GP bombs, and PGMs). Also, the 30mm cannon is excellent for precise standoff suppression or for marking targets for supporting attack aircraft. Whenever possible, SANDY ordnance loads will be tailored to each CSAR mission. Fighter aircraft, other than designated SANDY aircraft, may assist CSAR forces by suppressing ground threats and cutting lines of communication (LOCs). These forces can significantly increase the chances of mission success. Dedicated Combat Air Patrol (CAP) fighters may be assigned to the SARTF.

Recovery Vehicles. There are two primary recover vehicles used in USAF CSAR operations; the HH-60G Pave Hawk, and the MH-53J Pave Low III. Other recovery vehicles may be used depending on the circumstances.

HH-60G Pave Hawk. The HH-60G is the USAF primary rescue vehicle. HH-60G aircraft are equipped with in-flight refueling, Bendix weather radar, Night Vision Goggles (NVG), and an INS/GPS/Doppler integrated with the navigation system to provide precise low-altitude navigation and display on the pilot's integrated map reader. The HH-60G has a suite of radios and one satellite communications (SATCOMM). The SATCOMM is useful in relaying information such as survivor coordinates to the Rescue Center. All HH-60s are equipped with forward-looking infrared (FLIR). The HH-60G is lightly armed with two 7.62mm door guns and is equipped with a hoist.

MH-53J Pave Low III. Although the MH-53J has a primary mission of supporting Special Operations Forces, it may be tasked to recover personnel from enemy-controlled and/or politically-sensitive territory. MH-53 aircraft are equipped with in-flight refueling, forward-looking radar with terrain following/ terrain avoidance, FLIR, and inertial/Doppler/GPS navigation systems to provide precise low-altitude navigation.

Pararescue Personnel (PJ). Specialized personnel are assigned to Air Force combat rescue units with responsibility for ground search, rescue, and recovery. Pjs have skills in aircraft insertion/ extraction methods, aerial gunnery, aerial scanning, scuba, surface team operations, land search/ adverse terrain operations, emergency medical treatment, and survival, evasion, resistance, and escape (SERE). Specialized pararescue teams possess the capability for advanced parachuting techniques, open-sea recovery operations, extended low-visibility or clandestine surface operations, and high-altitude mountain recovery operations. During a rescue operation, the pararescue team leader will be the On-Scene Commander (OSC) for surface operations. PJs will carry various specially designed communications radios.

AWACS. If available, the AWACS can significantly increase the effectiveness of the rescue force. Its long range, mobility, look down radar, surveillance coverage, and communications capabilities are useful assets in CSAR operations. As an extension of its normal command and control duties, the AWACS can function as a CSAR coordinator unless relieved by a dedicated AMC.

Airborne Forward Air Controller (AFAC). The availability of a AFAC gives the rescue force several significant advantages. The AFAC may be able to locate and authenticate the survivors before the arrival of the CSAR forces if the survivor is in the area where the AFAC is controlling. The AFAC may be able to provide a current and accurate assessment of the threat in the recovery area; the AFAC can control available diversionary and suppressive attack flights, can direct battle-damaged aircraft to a nearby safe bailout area, and will assume initial on-scene command of the rescue effort when no dedicated SANDY assets are available or present.

En route to the Target. A Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) effort is multi-dimensional and complex and each scenario is different from another. The A-10 SANDYs will try to accomplish these tasks as early as possible in the rescue effort:

Authenticating the Survivor. CSAR forces in contact with a possible survivor must authenticate. Authentication ensures the person on the radio is indeed the survivor and not enemy personnel trying to lure the CSAR force into a trap. The techniques include used in authenticating the survivor center around a document called the ISOPREP card. The ISOPREP card contains statements and numbers memorized by that individual and that only the actual survivor would know.

Assisting the Survivor. Survivors are often injured, disoriented, or in shock and may not be familiar with their survival equipment. SANDY One must assess the survivor's physical and mental condition to determine how much help the survivor can provide in the CSAR effort. SANDY One can help the survivor maintain composure by establishing a professional atmosphere and by making survivor instructions as specific as possible. If possible, SANDY One should have an inventory of the survival gear carried by pilots on his mission. SANDY One will advise the rescue helicopter of the survivor(s) condition. This will allow the pararescue personnel to prepare medically and give them advance notice of the need to exit the helicopter and carry the survivor(s) back.

Collecting Survivor Information. This high priority information is provided by OSC/AMC and considered necessary for mission execution. Information for the SANDYs to collect about the survivor include the aircraft call sign(s), number of survivors, their location, survival equipment, and their physical condition. It is important for the pararescue personnel to know if the survivors can walk or need medical attention.

Collecting Recovery Area Information. Information such as recovery area threats, elevation, terrain, and enemy activity will help the rescue force know what to anticipate.

Formulating The Rescue Plan. This rescue plan will include such things as an Initial Point (IP) for the helicopters to use, a safe route in and out of the survivor's area for the helicopters to use, and any ordnance or tactics the SANDYs will employ during the rescue.

The Target Area. Once in the recovery area the SANDYs will usually split into two elements of two aircraft with SANDY One and Two moving near the survivors and SANDYs Three and Four joining forces to protect the rescue helicopters. The efforts of the entire rescue force are directed towards getting the helicopter to the survivor for the pickup. Since the helicopter operates in a low-altitude, low-airspeed regime, visual lookout and suppression of enemy defenses is vital. The helicopters have advanced navigation systems that can guide the rescue helicopter to the survivor with little assistance. Helicopter escort missions will normally consist of rendezvous with the helicopter(s), ingress, helicopter escort/suppression, cover/suppression during the pickup, and egress escort/suppression to a safe area. SANDY one will initiate each phase of the pickup and coordinate all actions with the CSAR force and the survivors on the ground.

Egress from the Target. Once the survivor(s) are on board the rescue helicopter the SANDYs will escort the helicopter quickly out of the area toward friendly territory. All four SANDYs are back together now and join forces to ensure the safety of the rescued survivor(s) and helicopter crew.

Summary. The Combat Search and Rescue mission is one of the most difficult and rewarding missions. Recovering survivors from behind enemy lines is a critically important mission.