MH-53 Pave Low

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Retired in 2009 and replaced by the Air Force CV-22 version of the V-22 Osprey, helicopters of the MH-53 PAVE LOW series are extensive modifications of the CH-53 Sea Stallion used as a heavy transport helicopter by the United States Marine Corps and the HH-53 search and rescue helicopter. PAVE LOWs, in the MH-53J or M versions, can fly long-range, very low level, special operations missions in night or day, and in adverse weather, as single aircraft or in formations. Image:MH-53 formation.jpg|thumb|left|MH-53 formationTheir main role is infiltrating, exfiltrating, and resupplying special operations forces on the ground, but they have also led more heavily armed AH-64 Apache attack helicopters to their targets. Ground forces carried typically have special reconnaissance, direct action for raids, or unconventional warfare missions.

PAVE LOWs can be air refueling|air refueled, especially by MC-130 COMBAT TALON aircraft with even more advanced C3I equipment; one or more MC-130s may shepherd a formation of MH-53s, as well as other mission-specific aircraft such as AC-130 fire support aircraft. Image:MH-53 being air refueled.jpg|thumb|MH-53 air refueling

Sensors and avionics

The basic suite includes terrain-following/terrain-avoidance radar, forward-looking infrared (FLIR) viewing, inertial navigation coupled with GPS, and a moving map display. Flight crew can wear night vision goggles.

When earlier aircraft, such as the HH-53 or MH-53E were upgraded to version M, the major enhancement was the Interactive Defensive Avionics System/Multi-Mission Advanced Tactical Terminal (IDAS/MATT). This system greatly enhances present defensive capabilities of the Pave Low. It provides instant access to the total battlefield situation, using near real-time electronic Order of Battle updates. It also provides a new level of detection avoidance with near real-time threat broadcasts over-the-horizon, so crews can avoid and defeat threats, and replan en route if needed. Additional communications gear, including the ARC-210|AN/ARC-210 SINCGARS-compliant and ARC-187|AN/ARC-187 HAVE QUICK II compliant radios, has been added.

In the M model, the defensive electronics build on those of the J model. There are now active electronic (e.g., jamming) and infrared defensives. To improve situational awareness, all the threat and countermeasure information is on a single display. The software will give immediate recommendations for avoiding or countering the threat.[1] The infrared countermeasures was not limited to flares, but directed energy from the ALQ-157|AN/ALQ-157 system.[2]

Cued by the AN/AAR-57 Common Missile Warning system and an AN/ALR-69|ALR-69A(V) direction-finding radar warning receiver, the PAVE LOW began with an AN/ALE-37, upgraded to an aN-|AN/ALE-47 Countermeasures Dispenser System (CMDS). The ALE-47 is a "smart" dispenser that can integrate with defensive avionics such as radar warning receivers, radar reflector (i.e., chaff (electronic warfare)|chaff) dispensers, radar jammers, as well as helping the pilot with situational awareness of the threat. [3]

Operational capabilities and future

M models can carry up to 37 troops or hook load a charge of up to 20,000 pounds.<GS-MH53M). The Air Force plans to replace them with the CV-22 special operations variant of the Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft. Confusingly, United States Marine Corps Ospreys in the regular combat transport role are designated MV-22, the "M" being the prefix for special operations aircraft, while the Air Force models, assigned to Special Operations, have the "C" prefix for cargo aircraft.

General Characteristics

  • Primary Function: Long-range infiltration, exfiltration and resupply of special operations forces in day, night or adverse weather conditions
  • Contractor: Sikorsky
  • Power Plant: Two General Electric T64-GE-100 engines
  • Thrust: 4,330 shaft horsepower per engine
  • Rotary Diameter: 72 feet (21.9 meters)
  • Length: 88 feet (28 meters)
  • Height: 25 feet (7.6 meters)
  • Speed: 165 mph (at sea level)
  • Ceiling: 16,000 feet (4,876 meters)
  • Maximum Takeoff Weight: 46,000 pounds (Emergency War Plan allows for 50,000 pounds)
  • Range: 600 nautical miles
  • Armament: Combination of three 7.62 mini guns or three .50 caliber machine guns
  • Crew: Two pilots (officers); two flight engineers and two aerial gunners (enlisted)
  • Date Deployed: 1981
  • Unit Costs: $40 million (fiscal 2001 constant dollars)
  • Air Force Inventory before retirement: Active force, 2 MH-53J's, 20 MH-53M's; Reserve, 0; ANG, 0


  1., MH-53M Pave Low IV
  2. BaE Systems, AN/ALQ-157(M) infrared countermeasures system
  3. NAVAIR Electronic Warfare Software Support Activity (EWSSA), System Support: ALE-47