The next generation of "Jolly Green Giants" ride shotgun with a new gun mount system that was developed for the Air Force by FN

The mission of Combat Search and Rescue, or C-SAR, helicopters for the Air Force dates to Vietnam, where large camouflage-painted Sikorsky HH-3Es were given armor and machine guns for protection. Nicknamed the "Jolly Green Giant" for obvious reasons, the HH-3E was replaced by the smaller but more modern HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters in the 1980s. Then, with the Pave Hawks showing their age, the Air Force in 2016 embarked on a program to field the new HH-60W Jolly Green II Combat Rescue Helicopter. 

And the service wanted the next generation of Jolly Green to tote a better weapons suite, with FN getting the call from HH60W contractor Lockheed Martin to come up with something special.

Whereas FN already made the fast-firing (1,100 rounds per minute) M3 .50-caliber machine gun – which the Marines had already fielded as the GAU-21 – and a Medium Pintle System to mount it on helicopters, the new flexible mount on the HH-60W was made capable of carrying either the Air Force's legacy GAU-18 .50-caliber machine gun with a 650- to 800-rounds-per-minute fire rate as carried on the HH-60 Pave Hawk, the M3/GAU-21, and the GAU-2, a 7.62mm NATO caliber electric M134 minigun with a 3,000 rounds-per-minute fire rate.  

Further, the new mounts allowed the helicopter’s left- and right-side mounted guns to rotate independently, providing an almost 360-degree firing arc – including straight ahead. 

Related: FN Factory Tour to see how M240s, SCARs, and 509s are Born

"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," notes FN. "It allows suppressive fire against light armored vehicles, suppressive fire in landing zones, and ground and aerial threat suppression."

FN announced this month the company delivered 10 prototype mounts between 2016 and mid-2019 for use in initial flight operations and Air Force validation tests. 

Air Force gun tests on HH-60W helicopter
The Air Force performed live-fire testing on the HH-60W Jolly Green Giant in August 2020 at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida "to verify the weapons systems functionality, accuracy, and to demonstrate the guns are safe to employ operationally." (U.S. Air Force photos by Tech. Sgt. John Raven)

This was followed with 25 shipsets (each of two mounts in left-hand side and right-hand side configurations along with dedicated ammunition boxes for each caliber) delivered by October 2022, at which time the Air Force declared the HH-60W "combat ready."  

The company began full-rate production of what is now dubbed the FN External Mount Gun System last November. Soon after, the Air Force announced that the 347th Rescue Group, operating with HH-60Ws, rescued two U.S. service members from a battlefield in the Horn of Africa in late December, the aircraft's first CASEVAC mission.

Ultimately, the Air Force program of record calls for 113 helicopters to be delivered. 


Banner image: Lockheed Martin. 

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