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FN Herstal to equip US Air Force’s next generation combat rescue helicopter

In 2016, the United States Air Force launched a major program for 113 helicopters to replace their ageing HH-60G Pave Hawk. Lockheed Martin won the competition with their newly designed HH-60W “Whiskey”, built on the state-of-the-art UH-60M Black Hawk.

This new helicopter design adds capability advancements to better support the full range of combat rescue (CRH) and other special missions. Particularly, the platform requirements include a robust weapons suite in order to perform critical high risk combat search and rescue and personnel recovery operations for all US military services and allies.

In 2017, Lockheed Martin selected FN Herstal to design, produce, and deliver a new family of Airborne Flex-Fire Weapon System Solutions. The FN® EMGS (External Mount Gun System) was born to meet both Lockheed Martin’s and US Air Force’s requirements.

FN Herstal’s innovative spirit to maximize survivability and flexibility

The FN® EMGS was designed to provide the customer with an integrated system featuring a specific mounting and interface to install three types of weapons – the .50 cal FN® M3M machine gun (GAU-21); but also, for the first time in FN Herstal history, third-party guns such as the GAU-18/A (unmodified) machine gun; and the 7.62mm M134 minigun – on the HH-60W windows. It allows suppressive fire against light armoured vehicles, suppressive fire in landing zones, and ground and aerial threat suppression.

This new system is provided in both Left-Hand Side (LHS) and Right-Hand Side (RHS) configurations. Dedicated ammunition boxes are supplied for each ammunition calibre.

Much more than a conventional weapon system, the FN® EMGS also allows side firing crew served operation by the gunner and remote firing by the pilot in fixed forward mode. This unique hybrid solution offers the user the capability to maximize the use of the machine gun in a wide firing window, allowing both lateral and fixed forward protection or target engagement.

This full modularity in terms of different machine guns compatibility and dual firing mode allow the aircraft to operate in a wide variety of missions.

FN Herstal CRH Program main milestones

From mid-2016 until mid-2019, FN Herstal designed the new weapon system and manufactured ten different shipset prototypes required to start Lockheed Martin’s qualification process, US Air Force validation, and initial flight operations.

From 2020 until October 2022, FN Herstal produced and delivered twenty-five shipsets of a Low-Rate Initial Production (LRIP).

As per official Lockheed Martin’s news last 12 October 2022, “the US Air Force declared Initial Operational Capability (IOC) for the HH-60W Jolly Green II Combat Rescue Helicopter, validating the platform’s operational readiness to forward deploy Air Force rescue crews around the globe.”

In November 2022, after the shipment of the complete LRIP, FN Herstal began a multi-year production and delivery program of Full-Rate-Production (FRP) systems.