A CSAR mission may be carried out by a task force of helicopters, ground-attack aircraft, aerial refueling tankers and an airborne command post. The USAF HC-130, which was introduced in 1965, has served in the latter two roles.
In the opening fluid stages of the First World War the Royal Navy Air Service Armoured Car Section was formed with armed and armoured touring cars to find and pick up aircrew who had been forced down. When trench warfare made this impossible the cars were transferred to other theatres, most notably the Middle East.
In 1915, during the First World War, Squadron Commander Richard Bell-Davies of the British Royal Naval Air Service performed the first combat search and rescue by aircraft in history. He used his single-seat aeroplane to rescue his wingman who had been shot down in Bulgaria. His Victoria Cross citation included "Squadron-Commander Davies descended at a safe distance from the burning machine, took up Sub-Lieutenant Smylie, in spite of the near approach of a party of the enemy, and returned to the aerodrome, a feat of airmanship that can seldom have been equalled for skill and gallantry." Like the search and rescue efforts of the future, Davies' action sprang from the fervent desire to keep a compatriot from capture or death at the hands of the enemy.
It was during the Mesopotamian campaign that British and Commonwealth forces began to use similar tactics on a larger scale. Shot down aviators in hostile Bedouin territory were often located by search parties in the air and rescued.
Other nations also contributed to the development of modern-day CSAR. In the First Indochina War French doctor, pilot and parachutist Valerie Andre pioneered MEDEVAC tactics, a precursor to what we know as CSAR today, by flying helicopters into combat zones to retrieve (or sometimes treat) injured soldiers.
During the Vietnam War the costly rescue of Bat 21 led the US military to find a new approach to high-threat search and rescue. They recognized that if a SAR mission was predestined to fail, it should not be attempted and other options such as special operations, diversionary tactics and other creative approaches tailored to the situation had to be considered. Recognizing the need for an aircraft that could deliver better close air support, the US Air Force introduced the A-7 Corsair, originally a carrier-based Navy light attack aircraft, to replace the Air Force's A-1 Skyraiders, an aircraft that also was originally a carrier-based naval attack bomber.
As a result of the Vietnam CSAR experience, the US military also improved the night capability of helicopters and area denial munitions.:36
During the Vietnam War, U.S. SAR forces saved 3,883 lives at the cost of 71 rescuers and 45 aircraft.:46
In 1972, during the Vietnam War, Lt Col Iceal Hambleton, a USAF navigator/electronic warfare officer with a background in ballistic missile technology and missile countermeasures, was the sole survivor of an EB-66 shot down during the Easter Offensive. He eluded capture by North Vietnamese forces until his rescue 11½ days later. During the rescue operation, five US military aircraft supporting the CSAR effort were shot down, eleven US servicemen were killed and two men were captured. The rescue operation was the "largest, longest, and most complex search-and-rescue" operation during the entire Vietnam War. It has been the subject of two books and the largely fictionalized film Bat*21.
The United States Air Force (USAF) 24th Special Tactics Squadron was involved in the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu. Timothy Wilkinson, a Pararescueman, was awarded the Air Force Cross for his heroic actions during the battle.
On June 2, 1995, a USAF F-16C was shot down by a Bosnian Serb Army SA-6 surface-to-air missile near Mrkonjić Grad, Bosnia and Herzegovina. The American pilot, Scott O'Grady, ejected safely and was rescued six days later. The operation became known as the Mrkonjić Grad incident.
In 1999, members of the United States Air Force Pararescue unit successfully rescued the pilot of an F-117 "stealth" attack aircraft who was shot down over Yugoslavia while on a NATO-led mission. The pilot was retrieved 6 hours after the incident.