Combat search and rescue

Combat search and rescue (CSAR) are search and rescue operations that are carried out during war that are within or near combat zones.[1]

A CSAR mission may be carried out by a task force of helicopters, ground-attack aircraft, aerial refueling tankers and an airborne command post.[2] The USAF HC-130, which was introduced in 1965, has served in the latter two roles.[3] exercise
An HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter comes in for a landing during a training exercise.


Richard Bell-Davies VC IWM Q 69475
Richard Bell-Davies conducted the first combat S&R mission in his aircraft during the First World War.

The First World War was the background for the development of early combat search and rescue doctrine, especially in the more fluid theaters of war in the Balkans and the Middle East.

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."[4] 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.[5]

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.

HC-130P refueling HH-53B over North Vietnam
A Sikorsky HH-53B refueling during the Vietnam War.

During World War II, the Luftwaffe (Seenotdienst organization) operated armed camouflaged air-sea rescue aircraft.[6]

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.[7]:36

During the Vietnam War, U.S. SAR forces saved 3,883 lives at the cost of 71 rescuers and 45 aircraft.[7]:46

Notable CSAR missions

World War One

On 21 April 1917, Captain Richard Williams of the Australian Flying Corps landed behind enemy lines to rescue a downed comrade.[8][9]

Vietnam War

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.[10] It has been the subject of two books and the largely fictionalized film Bat*21.[11]


PJs rescued downed pilot during OIF
Pararescuemen return with a downed pilot from a successful rescue mission in southern Iraq (2003).

The United States Air Force (USAF) 24th Special Tactics Squadron was involved in the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu.[12] Timothy Wilkinson, a Pararescueman, was awarded the Air Force Cross for his heroic actions during the battle.[13]

During the opening moments of Operation Desert Storm, an MH-53 Pave Low crew from the 20th Special Operations Squadron recovered an F-14 Tomcat pilot who was shot down over Iraq.[14]

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.[15] 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.[16]

See also


  1. ^ SPG Media Limited/ (2009). "Term: Combat Search and Rescue". Archived from the original on 2008-05-10. Retrieved 2009-06-03.
  2. ^ Combat Aircraft (European Edition) (magazine), Ian Allan Publishing, September 2003, page 28
  3. ^ Combat Aircraft (European Edition) (magazine), Ian Allan Publishing, September 2003, page 29
  4. ^ "No. 29423". The London Gazette (Supplement). 1 January 1916. p. 86.
  5. ^ Leave No Man Behind: The Saga of Combat Search and Rescue. pp. 5–6.
  6. ^ Feltus, Pamela. History and the Headlines. "Air-Sea Rescue." ABC-CLIO, 2008. Retrieved: 23 April 2011.
  7. ^ a b Busboom, Lt. Col. Stanley (April 2, 1990). Bat 21: A Case Study. Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania: U.S. Army War College. Retrieved April 3, 2011.
  8. ^ Cutlack, The Australian Flying Corps, p.63
  9. ^ "No. 30234". The London Gazette (Supplement). 14 August 1917. p. 8353.
  10. ^ Zimmerman, Dwight Jon; Gresham, John. Beyond Hell and Back: How America's Special Operations Forces Became the World's Greatest Fighting Unit. St. Martin's Griffin. p. 320. ISBN 0-312-38467-X.
  11. ^ Darrel D. Whitcomb, The Rescue of Bat 21 (Naval Institute Press, 1998)
  12. ^ Pike, John (n.d.). "24th Special Tactics Squadron 24th STS". Global Security. Retrieved 19 April 2011.
  13. ^ "The Air Force Cross For Actions in Somalia in 1993". Retrieved September 7, 2012.
  14. ^ "Hawg Driver Coordinates Desert Storm Rescue Mission! - Fighter Sweep". 1 February 2016.
  15. ^ "One Amazing Kid - Capt. Scott O' Grady escapes from Bosnia-Herzegovina". Archived from the original on 2011-06-08.
  16. ^ Valdet. "U.S. F-117 Stealth Fighter Is Downed in Yugoslavia".
  • Leave No Man Behind: The Saga of Combat Search and Rescue. George Galdorisi, Thomas Phillips. MBI Publishing Company, 2009. ISBN 0-7603-2392-5, ISBN 978-0-7603-2392-2.
101st Rescue Squadron

The 101st Rescue Squadron (101 RQS) is a unit of the New York Air National Guard 106th Rescue Wing stationed at Francis S. Gabreski Air National Guard Base, Westhampton Beach, New York. The squadron is equipped with the HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter, configured for combat search and rescue operations.

111th Fighter Wing

The 111th Attack Wing (111 ATKW) is a unit of the Pennsylvania Air National Guard, stationed at Horsham Air National Guard Station, Willow Grove, Pennsylvania. If activated to federal service, the Wing is gained by the United States Air Force Air Combat Command. It provides protection of life, property, and the preservation of peace and order when tasked to do so by state or federal authorities. The Wing also provides operational and support units, as well as qualified personnel, to support wartime tasking and contingency commitments of any nature.

The 103d Attack Squadron is a descendant organization of the 103d Observation Squadron, formed on 27 June 1924. It was one of the 29 original National Guard Observation Squadrons of the United States Army National Guard formed before World War II.

Currently the wing uses General Atomics MQ-9 Reapers to directly support combatant commanders across the globe providing; surveillance, reconnaissance gathering capabilities, combat search and rescue, and weapons employment when called upon. The wing hosts several new tenant organizations at Horsham ANGB including units of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard and the U.S. Army Reserve, among others.The 111th Attack Wing consists of the 111th Operations Group; 111th Mission Support Group; and the 111th Medical Group.

130th Rescue Squadron

The 130th Rescue Squadron (130 RQS) is a unit of the California Air National Guard 129th Rescue Wing located at Moffett Federal Airfield, Mountain View, California. The 130th is equipped with the MC-130P Combat Shadow.

131st Rescue Squadron

The 131st Rescue Squadron (131 RQS) is a unit of the California Air National Guard 129th Rescue Wing located at Moffett Federal Airfield, Mountain View, California.

176th Wing

The 176th Wing (176 WG) is a unit of the Alaska Air National Guard, stationed at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson (JBER), Anchorage, Alaska. If activated to federal service, components of the Wing are gained by several United States Air Force Major Commands.

211th Rescue Squadron

The 211th Rescue Squadron (211th RQS) is a unit of the Alaska Air National Guard 176th Wing located at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Anchorage, Alaska. The 211th is equipped with the HC-130J Hercules.

55th Rescue Squadron

The 55th Rescue Squadron is an aviation unit of the United States Air Force. It operates the Sikorsky HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter and provides rapidly deployable combat search and rescue forces to theater commanders worldwide. They tactically employ the HH-60G helicopter and its crew in hostile environments to recover downed aircrew and isolated personnel during day, night, or marginal weather conditions. The squadron also conducts military operations other than war including civil search and rescue, disaster relief, international aid, emergency medical evacuation, and counter-drug activities.Since 2003, the squadron provided rapidly deployable combat search and rescue forces worldwide; and deployed aircraft and crews in response to national disasters, domestic search and rescue, and medical evacuation ("MEDEVAC") missions.

Air Combat Command

Air Combat Command (ACC) is one of ten Major Commands (MAJCOMs) in the United States Air Force, reporting to Headquarters, United States Air Force (HAF) at the Pentagon. It is the primary provider of air combat forces for the Air Force, and it is the direct successor to Tactical Air Command. Air Combat Command is headquartered at Langley Air Force Base, Joint Base Langley–Eustis, Virginia, United States.

Cervia Air Base

Cervia Air Base (ICAO: LIPC) is an air base of the Italian Air Force (Aeronautica Militare). It is located in northern Italy, approximately 6 km (3.2 NM) southwest of Cervia, in the province of Ravenna (Emilia-Romagna). It was the home of the 5th Fighter Wing, which flew leased US Air Force Lockheed Martin F-16 Falcon. It is also a NATO air base and is visited by other NATO air forces on a routine basis. After Italy returned the leased F-16 to the US Air Force the 5th Fighter Wing was disbanded and in its place the 1st Special Air Brigade moved to Cervia. Along with the 1st Special Air Brigade arrived the 15th CSAR Wing - the Italian air force's Combat Search and Rescue wing.

Combat Search and Rescue (Turkish Armed Forces)

The Combat Search and Rescue (Turkish: Muharebe Arama Kurtarma) are an elite unit of the Turkish Air Force whose task is to recover pilots and other military personnel stranded behind enemy lines.

Eurocopter EC725

The Eurocopter EC725 Caracal, now called Airbus Helicopters H225M, is a long-range tactical transport military helicopter developed from the Eurocopter AS532 Cougar for military use. It is a twin-engined aircraft and can carry up to 29 seated troops along with two crew, depending on customer configuration. The helicopter is marketed for troop transport, casualty evacuation, and combat search and rescue duties, and is similar to the civilian EC225.

Fusiliers Commandos de l'Air

The Fusiliers Commandos de l'Air (French for "Fusilier commandos of the Air (force)") of France's Armée de l'Air (French Air Force) are equivalent to the United Kingdom's RAF Regiment, Germany's Objektschutzregiment der Luftwaffe or the United States Air Force's United States Air Force Security Forces. They are airmen armed and trained as infantry, who provide ground defense of air bases and secure forward base areas. They also participate in forward air control, combat search and rescue missions, and as air assault infantry.


Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron FIVE (HSC-5) (previously Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron FIVE (HS-5)), also known as the Nightdippers, is a helicopter squadron of the United States Navy based at Naval Station Norfolk operating the Sikorsky MH-60S Seahawk. The Nightdippers are a part of Carrier Air Wing Seven and deploy aboard USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75) to provide anti-surface warfare, search and rescue, vertical replenishment, Combat Search and Rescue and Naval Special Warfare Support capabilities to the carrier strike group.

Home Front Command

The Israeli Home Front Command (Hebrew: פיקוד העורף, Pikud HaOref) is an Israel Defense Forces regional command, created in February 1992 following the Gulf War, which was the first war since the 1948 Arab-Israeli War in which centers of civilian population faced significant threat. The command is responsible for civil defense: preparing the civilian population for a conflict or disaster, assisting the population during the crisis, and contributing to post-crisis reconstruction.

Until the establishment of the Command, responsibility for the Home Front fell under the Civilian Defense's Chief Officer Corps Command and under Regional Defense. During that time, the three regional commands had their own home front commands. After the first Persian Gulf War, these organizations were unified and the Home Front Command was created.

This unit should not be confused with Unit 669. The Home Front Command includes a domestic search and rescue unit, primarily operating in times of natural disasters, while Unit 669 is the Israeli Air Force's Tactical Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) unit that operates behind enemy lines.

It is currently headed by Aluf Eyal Eisenberg.

Lockheed HC-130

The Lockheed HC-130 is an extended-range, search and rescue (SAR)/combat search and rescue (CSAR) version of the C-130 Hercules military transport aircraft, with two different versions operated by two separate services in the U.S. armed forces.

The HC-130H Hercules and HC-130J Hercules versions are operated by the United States Coast Guard in a SAR and maritime reconnaissance role.

The HC-130P Combat King and HC-130J Combat King II variants are operated by the United States Air Force for long-range SAR and CSAR. The USAF variants also execute on scene CSAR command and control, airdrop pararescue forces and equipment, and are also capable of providing aerial refueling to appropriately equipped USAF, US Army, USN, USMC, and NATO/Allied helicopters in flight. In this latter role, they are primarily used to extend the range and endurance of combat search and rescue helicopters.

In July 2015, it was announced that the U.S. Forest Service will be receiving some of the U.S. Coast Guard's HC-130H aircraft to use as aerial fire retardant drop tankers as the Coast Guard replaces the HC-130H with additional HC-130J and HC-27J Spartan aircraft, the latter being received from the Air National Guard as part of a USAF-directed divestment of the C-27.

Sikorsky HH-60 Pave Hawk

The Sikorsky MH-60G/HH-60G Pave Hawk is a twin-turboshaft engine helicopter in service with the United States Air Force. It is a derivative of the UH-60 Black Hawk and incorporates the US Air Force PAVE electronic systems program. The HH-60/MH-60 is a member of the Sikorsky S-70 family.

The MH-60G Pave Hawk's primary mission is insertion and recovery of special operations personnel, while the HH-60G Pave Hawk's core mission is recovery of personnel under hostile conditions, including combat search and rescue. Both versions conduct day or night operations into hostile environments. Because of its versatility, the HH-60G may also perform peacetime operations such as civil search and rescue, emergency aeromedical evacuation (MEDEVAC), disaster relief, international aid and counter-drug activities.

Special Actions Detachment

The Special Actions Detachment (Portuguese: Destacamento de Ações Especiais) or DAE is the special operations maritime unit of the Portuguese Navy. It is part of the Portuguese Marine Corps.

Raised in 1985, the DAE is one of the smallest special forces units within the Portuguese Armed Forces.

It is responsible for conducting special operations, beach reconnaissance, Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR), maritime counter-terrorism, demolition operations, and other missions in support of Portuguese and NATO armed forces.

Unit 669

Unit 669 (Hebrew: יחידת החילוץ והפינוי בהיטס 669,Yechidat HaHilu'tz VeHaPinu'i Behethes 669; English: Airborne Rescue And Evacuation Unit 669) is the Israel Defense Forces heliborne Combat Search and Rescue extraction unit, subordinate to the Special Air Forces Command of the Israeli Air Force. It is considered one of the IDF's premier elite units. Combat and support-staff jobs are multi-ethnic, and non-combat jobs are coed. It is the Israeli equivalent to Pararescue of the US Air Force.

United States Air Force Combat Rescue Officer

Combat Rescue Officer (CRO) is a career field in the United States Air Force. Its Air Force Specialty Code (AFSC) is 13D and it was created to strengthen USAF personnel recovery capabilities by providing commissioned officer leadership that possessed an operational skillset paralleling that of the enlisted pararescuemen (PJ). The CRO specialty includes direct combatant command and control of Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) operations. They plan, manage and execute the six tasks of CSAR: prepare, report, locate, support, recover, and reintegrate isolated personnel and materiel. CROs conduct strategic, operational and tactical level planning, provide battle staff expertise, manage theater personnel recovery operations and conduct combat operations.

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