A closer look at Jolly’s new guns
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.
“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.
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.
The HH53C was also used for combat rescue in Vietnam and after, designated Super Jolly. I was a crew chief on Super Jollies in the 70s.
As a PJ in 1970-71 on the HH-53C Super Jolly Green Giant at the 37th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron, my first impression of this gun mount is that the person manning the gun appears to need to be completely outside the helicopter. It appears also that for someone on the left side of the chopper, there is the potential for the person no interfere with hoist ops. Has this been considered by the USAF people trying to get this weapon? Also, if this gun jams, it appears from the photos that there would be no way in-flight to unjam it. The person putting the feeder-delinker into the weapon is standing on the tarmac, which in combat situations is impossible. By the way, I don’t like the new HH-60W Jolly Green as it is the only Jolly Green that people in the back cannot stand up in. It’s on your knees, all the way, when actually working on a patient.
I know the images are from the test fire in 2020 with a prototype mount, which was done on a tarmac (at least in the images anyway) but from what I understand the mounts do rotate and can be fired and serviced from inside the airframe.
Weren’t they going to swap out the M134 7.62×51 Minigun with the XR338 8.60×63 Minigun which added an additional ~1,000-meters to its range! Or did the AF change their collective minds again…