International SAR 2013 – Chairmans report

Chairmans report by Terry Loughran, Rear Admiral CB FRAeS, Conference Chairman.     

Tangent Link’s decision to return to the topic of Search & Rescue was perfectly timed as reflected in the response from the 132 attendees from 20 Nations, 24 exhibitors and enthusiastic sponsorship from AVINCIS and Airborne Technologies.  The inevitable link with air capabilities, especially in the execution of Maritime Surveillance in the round, leads to a natural pull through to Tangent’s immediate Event Schedule of: Military Maintenance Repair and Overhaul and Airborne Special Mission (Jakarta July 2013); Civil ISR International (Duxford UK also in July 2013); and Onshore/Offshore Aviation Asia and Police Aviation (Kuala Lumpur September 2013). A further International SAR Conference is amongst many additional topics envisaged for later in the year and into 2014.

The support of the UK Maritime Coastguard Agency (MCA) (including HM Coastguard) coming hard on the heels of the outcome of the UK SAR  (Helicopter) competition, leant a currency to the proceedings. Their Keynote Speaker and three Presenters (together with a live SAR demonstration) reflects the breadth of their interest and operations from SAR, through Maritime Surveillance and Pollution Control to the implications of Offshore Renewable Energy structures. There is still much work in progress, with the UK model being closely followed by the International delegates.

The civil UK SAR Helicopter contract awarded to the Bristow Group was keenly contested (with AVINCIS a close second) resulting in a comprehensive capability from 2017 with a 98% availability target from S92 and AW189 platforms.

The risk of the AW 189 still being in development mirrors the Belgian situation where the delivery of NH90 replacements for their elderly Sea Kings has slipped with complications for maintenance, training and finance; during their now phased introduction of NFR, a 40% drop in availability is expected. After 45 years service, the UK Sea Kings are similarly coming to the end of their cost effective lives and with the advent of UK SAR, the curtain will come down on 60 years of Naval contribution to civil SAR.

Transitional Arrangements are being put in place for Military SAR personnel who wish to transfer to the new civilian force, but the implications for the ongoing Military SAR to meet Service requirements and its inevitable response to both local civil SAR & HEMS has yet to be refined.  The loss of the Long Range SAR element provided by the Nimrod cannot be overlooked.  While the aid they can offer is often limited to an air drop of survival equipment, the early arrival of a fixed wing aircraft can assess and refine the situation, minimizing the time on scene required by helicopters operating at extreme range. Spain is introducing the CN235 fixed wing to meet this task.

HM Coastguard itself is undergoing a process of change with the present 18 MRCCs being replaced by 10 networked National Coastguard Operations Centres controlled from a new Headquarters in Fareham.  HMCG responsibilities are more wide ranging than SAR with Maritime Surveillance through Vessel Traffic Monitoring using the National AIS (VHF Automated Identification System) and the IMSO International LRIT (Satellite Long Range Identification & Tracking)

The control of Pollution is contracted out using Satellite detection and monitoring, with active spraying conducted by a private company – RVL.

The Spanish Coast Guard equivalent, SASEMAR, has differing remits and actively undertakes Pollution Control, a challenging task which would appear a candidate for privatization.  The UK equally could benefit from a more joined up approach embracing the parallel EEZ activities of Border Security, Fishery Protection etc.  The Chief Executive postulated the Coast Guard looking further inland in providing the service expected of the public, with further issues of integration, for example, with Police and Air Ambulance air assets.  The proliferation of  offshore Renewable Energy platforms has the potential for significant maritime accidents and challenging SAR and HEMS tasking.

The MCA follows a policy of cooperation with the EU, there being no Government mandate for a joint Force.  Cooperation is particularly close with Belgium, the Netherlands, France and Ireland.  The Irish Coastguard is following a cost effective role of multi Tasking with their new S92s taking on both SAR and HEMS duties.  Portugal is experimenting with new technologies including UAVs and a SAR philosophy of “Preventative Action’; meanwhile Canada with its vast coastline and land mass is reviewing future Fixed and Rotary requirements.

A  presentation from the Icelandic Coastguard, with challenges from a hostile marine environment to mountains and volcanoes ashore, chimed with another from New Zealand with responsibilities in the Antarctic, both  highlighting the demanding judgement calls in committing SAR assets into perilous conditions.

Another particularly challenging area is in Combat SAR (CSAR) and the instigator and Director of the US based, but International Joint CSAR/Disaster exercise Angel Thunder, presented the scope and scale of this, the largest Personnel Recovery’ exercise. The not-for-profit organisation Rescue Global’,  present in the audience, made valuable contributions from the floor and will be taking up Angel Thunder’s invitation to the next exercise. The Commandante of the French CSAR Squadron examined the flexibility provided by rotary wing assets, but highlighted the requirement for enhanced range provided by a tilt rotor or inflight refueling for helicopters.

CSAR for UK forces will require greater attention once the skills honed in Iraq and Afghanistan start to decay.

A Technical Presentation from the Austrian Sponsor Airborne Technologies focused on weight saving design to increase range and endurance, and high aspect wing on the SAR platform to maximize sensor effectiveness.

AVINCIS  Mission Critical Services, the Principle VIP Sponsor is the world’s leading provider of aerial services for mission critical operations such as medical emergency, civil protection, search and rescue, coast and city surveillance, firefighting and energy support services sharing both Tangent Link’s philosophy of customer focus and values and a matching portfolio of interests. AVINCIS presented in conjunction with their customer SASEMAR, highlighting CN235 support for Long Distance SAR Operations.

Feedback from this comprehensive Conference programme was most positive with much support for the early repeat of a follow on event.

The last word should go to our concluding presenter Lieutenant Colonel Peter Van Den Broucke, SAR Commander in the Belgian Air Force:

The Conference stimulates discussion on the needs of Nation States and the contract commitments of Industry. The final goal is the same for both – to deliver a quality product that can do the job, that is fully operational and available in order to rescue human lives.


Terry Loughran

Rear Admiral CB FRAeS