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Combat search and rescue exercise.jpg
An HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter comes in for a landing during a training exercise.

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]


A Sikorsky HH-53B of the 40th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron refueling from an HC-130P over North Vietnam during the Vietnam War

During World War I there were several impromptu rescues that would now be described as CSAR.

In World War II the Luftwaffe (Seenotdienst organization) operated armed camouflaged air-sea rescue aircraft.[4]

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.[5]:36

During the Vietnam War, U.S. SAR forces saved 3,883 lives at the cost of 71 rescuers and 45 aircraft.[5]:46

USAF SAR was under AFSOC control from 2003 until 2006 and AFSOC vice commander Maj. Gen. George Williams has called for its return, citing the speed and range of the CV-22 operated by his branch.[6]

Notable CSAR missions

World War I

In 1915, during the First World War, Squadron Commander Richard Bell-Davies of the British Royal Naval Air Service 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."[7]

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]


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, would later be awarded the Air Force Cross for his heroic actions during the Battle of Mogadishu.[13]

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.[14] The operation became known as the Mrkonjić Grad incident.

See also


  1. SPG Media Limited/ (2009). "Term: Combat Search and Rescue". 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. Feltus, Pamela. History and the Headlines. "Air-Sea Rescue." ABC-CLIO, 2008. Retrieved: 23 April 2011.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Busboom, Lt. Col. Stanley (April 2, 1990). Bat 21: A Case Study. Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania: U.S. Army War College. Retrieved April 3, 2011. 
  6. "USAF May Use V-22s for Combat Rescue Mission."
  7. "No. 29423". 1 January 1916. 
  8. Cutlack, The Australian Flying Corps, p.63
  9. "No. 30234". 14 August 1917. 
  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. pp. 320. ISBN 0-312-38467-X. 
  11. Darrel D. Whitcomb, The Rescue of Bat 21 (Naval Institute Press, 1998)
  12. Pike, John (undated). "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. One Amazing Kid - Capt. Scott O' Grady escapes from Bosnia-Herzegovina

External links

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