The primary operational task of rescue is to locate, communicate with, and recover downed aircrews and isolated personnel. This primary task can be broken into three sub-tasks. Locating the aircrew or isolated personnel (survivor) by visual or electronic search methods to pinpoint the survivorís location and permit recovery. Communicating with the survivor by radio or visual signaling to conduct authentication. Recover the survivor to return the survivor to friendly control and provide the survivor necessary medical assistance.
Additional, non-rescue specific, operational tasks that must be completed to accomplish the primary rescue task include: (1) provide personnel and equipment to train rescue mission ready personnel, (2) operate efficiently during peacetime, (3) airdrop rescue personnel and equipment, (4) configure rescue equipment for deployment, (5) provide self-protection for rescue assets, (6) conduct medical evacuation operations, (7) provide intelligence support directly to the rescue aircrew, (8) respond to and prepare for rescue mission execution, (9) control alert and airborne rescue missions, and (10) support rescue sortie production.
To accomplish the primary task, the US Air Force currently maintains two operational systems, the HC-130N/P and the HH-60G. The HC-130 provides long-range search capability in a no-to-low threat environment, day or night. The HC-130 also provides a limited command and control link for all rescue assets during a rescue mission, and extends the range of the rescue helicopter by providing in-flight air refueling. The HH-60 provides limited search and recovery of the survivor in up to a medium threat environment, day or night. If a survivor requires immediate medical attention and cannot wait for the arrival of the recovery helicopter, threat environment permitting, specially trained Pararescuemen (PJ) can be airdropped to the survivor using parachute deployments. Once on scene, the PJ will stabilize the survivors and prepare them for recovery.
The threat environments that rescue assets operate within can be adjusted by the use of supporting aircraft. Supporting aircraft providing air-to-air, air-to-ground, and Suppression of Enemy Air Defense (SEAD) coverage can degrade the threat, either temporarily or permanently, permitting rescue assets to enter the area and execute the recovery. Rescue forces may be augmented by these supporting systems depending on the threat environment, distance to the survivor, and availability of assets.