Safety is Priority for Rotary Wing Operations Aboard Surface Ships

Addressing the men and women responsible for safely integrating helicopter air operations with surface ships, this week Vice Adm. Richard Brown, commander, Naval Surface Forces, and Vice Adm. DeWolfe Miller, III, commander, Commander, Naval Air Forces, released a joint message addressing operational safety and risk mitigation expectations for air-capable surface ships during flight deck operations.

“We are confident each one of you completely understand and concur with the importance of safely operating helicopters at sea and we thank you for your teams’ tireless work while training and operating forward,” wrote the admirals.

The message follows completion of a memo from the Naval Safety Center detailing hazards to rotary-wing aircraft throughout the past five years, and directly addressed concerns regarding past mishaps involving helicopter operations aboard low freeboard ships, specifically guided-missile destroyers.

Since assuming command earlier this year, Vice Adm. Brown has put great emphasis on the principle of Safety in all aspect of Surface Force operations. The command philosophy specifically states:

USS Halsey deployment
180102-N-AZ808-2266 ARABIAN GULF (Jan. 2, 2018) Boatswain’s Mate 2nd Class Lauren Vannewhouse signals to an MH-60S Sea Hawk assigned to the Indians of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 6 during flight quarters aboard the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Halsey (DDG 97). Halsey is deployed with the Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations in support of maritime security operations to reassure allies and partners and preserve the freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce in the region. (U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Nicholas Burgains/Released)

There is nothing short of actual combat operations that allow us to put any of our shipmates in danger. Going to sea in ships is inherently dangerous – we must not increase that danger by making poor decisions or failing to identify to the chain of command possible safety issues. Do not assume that someone above you has thought about possible consequences of an action! You may save a shipmate from serious injury or death by simply asking the question “Should we be doing this?” In all phases of a ship’s life cycle, we must continue to mature in our ability to identify hazards, apply risk management and correct discrepancies.

The guidance provided in this most recent official message emphasizes to commanding officers the value of building good operational habits through sustained training of personnel in focused and controlled environments prior to conducting full-speed operations, including tight coordination between ship and aviation teams that incorporate all training resources.

Surface Forces believes in the core principle that, “A crew that is well trained, educated and qualified is a crew that knows their ship and her capabilities.”

The message addressing helicopter operations goes on to give special prominence to understanding the ship’s maneuvering limits and recommendations with helicopters on deck, and the need to mitigate risk real time by stressing that commanding officers must ensure all watch standers and aircrew understand the risks when maneuvers are planned with personnel or aircraft on the flight deck.

The admirals acknowledge that safety practices go beyond just the frontline of the cockpit and flight deck by noting that the Navy must ensure our Commanding Officer, Tactical Action Officer, Officer of the Deck and Aircrew training continuums must effectively teach crews to employ polar plots and understand limitations well enough to anticipate the risks associated with maneuvering our ships – during training and combat operations.

USS Preble
171119-N-IA905-1045 PACIFIC OCEAN (Nov. 19, 2017) Boatswain’s Mate 1st Class Dyamond Douglas-Swails signals to an MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter assigned to the Indians of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 6 as it prepares to land on the flight deck of the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Preble (DDG 88). Preble is conducting maritime security, forward presence and theater security operations in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Morgan K. Nall/Released)

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