Then-StratCom chief Gen. John Hyten once told an Omaha crowd that he would “die trying or kill someone” to procure new helicopters for patrolling the nuclear missile fields of the western Great Plains.
It looks like the general can keep his weapon holstered.
The Air Force unveiled its new MH-139A helicopter during a ceremony Thursday at Duke Field, a military airport in Florida, and christened it the Grey Wolf. After years of delays, training and testing are slated to begin on the new aircraft, which will operate among about 440 Minuteman III missile silos in Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota, Colorado and western Nebraska.
Some will also be used in the Washington, D.C., area.
The helicopters will replace Vietnam-era UH-1N Huey aircraft, in use since 1970. The aircraft protect ground convoys that carry nuclear warheads among the widely scattered silos. They’re also on alert to respond quickly to security breaches at the silos.
The name comes from a species of wolf that is native to the northern Rocky Mountains, a territory that overlaps with the intercontinental ballistic missile fields.
“They hunt as a pack, they attack as one, they bring the force of many,” Gen. Timothy Ray, commander of the Air Force Global Strike Command, which oversees the ICBMs, said during Thursday’s ceremony. “That’s exactly how you need to approach the nuclear security mission.”
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That mission is ultimately the responsibility of U.S. Strategic Command, headquartered at Offutt Air Force Base. That’s why Hyten — who was elevated to vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff last month — lobbied for them throughout his three-year tenure as StratCom commander. So did his predecessor, Adm. Cecil Haney.
The Air Force has been looking to replace its 62 Hueys since the mid-2000s. That move gained steam four years ago, after the Hueys failed during a classified exercise. The helicopters weren’t able to cover long distances carrying heavy loads in hot weather.
“They don’t have the lift to get the amount of security forces to the scene,” Haney testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee in 2016. “In order to meet these kinds of requirements, we need a new helicopter.”
He described the need as “urgent.”
Congress launched a procurement program in 2017. Last year, Boeing won a $2.38 billion contract to build up to 84 aircraft for the Air Force. They are militarized versions of the company’s AW139, built “off the shelf” for what the Air Force has touted as a $1.7 billion savings over the original estimate.
The first aircraft, delivered this week, will be used for testing by a newly created Air Force detachment at Duke Field, said Maj. Anastasia Schmidt, a spokeswoman for the Global Strike Command.
The first operational Grey Wolves are expected to be delivered to Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana in 2021, she said, with units later being deployed at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming and Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota.
StratCom issued a statement Friday saying it welcomed the arrival of the first Grey Wolf for testing.
“The naming of the MH-139 Grey Wolf and arrival at Duke Field, Florida, is an important milestone for U.S. Strategic Command and our nation’s security,” Maj. Kate Atanasoff, a StratCom spokeswoman, said.
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Offutt Air Force Base is named for Lt. Jarvis Offutt — the first airman from Omaha killed in World War I.
1891: The area now known as Offutt Air Force Base was first commissioned as Fort Crook, an Army post to house cavalry soldiers and their horses. This photo, circa 1905, shows mounted officers and infantry troops assembling on the parade ground. The officers' quarters in the background still stand today, but the closing of Offutt's stables in 2010 ended the base's equine tradition.
1946: The World's Fair of Aviation was held at Offutt Air Force Base, including a race between a 1912 airplane and 1912 automobile. The 1912 airplane easily won, but provided sharp contrast to the sleek, modern "600-mile-per-hour aircraft" on display at the fair.
1952: Painter Frank Anania places the final bolt in the SAC emblem, newly placed on the command building at Strategic Air Command headquarters. After the command was created in 1946, SAC headquarters were moved from Andrews Field, Maryland, to Offutt Air Force Base. SAC's high-flying reconnaissance planes and bombers would go on to play a global role from the onset of the Cold War through the last bomb of the Persian Gulf War.
1956: The Strategic Air Command "nerve center" gets a new headquarters building at Offutt Air Force Base.
1957: Even since the late 1950s, Strategic Air Command has been holding open house events at Offutt Air Force Base to display and demonstrate aircraft for civilian visitors. Each year, the open house and air show at Offutt features aerial acts or reenactments, static displays, and booths showcasing military history and capabilities.
1959: The first SAC museum consisted of a section of abandoned runway near the north edge of Offutt Air Force Base outside of Bellevue. However, the outdoor display left the aircraft vulnerable to the elements.
1961: A Royal Air Force bomber crashes at Offutt Air Force Base. Beginning in the late 1950s, the RAF maintained small detachment and service facility for Vulcan bomber planes at Offutt, often participating in defense exercises and demonstrations at the base until their retirement and deactivation in 1982. This plane crashed at take-off at the northwest end of the main runway and then slid across Highway 73-75. All seven passengers survived.
1962: Just weeks after the Cuban missile crisis, President John F. Kennedy visits Offutt Air Force Base, accompanied by Gen. Thomas Power of Strategic Air Command, right.
1962: Actor Rock Hudson receives a B-52 bomber briefing during a visit to Omaha and Offutt Air Force Base. He began filming "A Gathering of Eagles" in May of that year.
1967: An early photograph of the Ehrling Bergquist military medical clinic in Bellevue. The clinic has served Offutt Air Force Base since 1966 and was remodeled in 2013, including a grand staircase, larger physical therapy and mental health areas, and a more private mammography waiting area.
1970: The world's largest aircraft at that time, the C5 Galaxy was displayed as part of the open house for civilian visitors at Offutt Air Force Base.
1989: A conference room in the SAC underground command post at Offutt Air Force Base. Strategic Air Command would be formally disestablished in 1992, but Offutt would remain the headquarters for the new United States Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM).
1992: The Strategic Air Command Memorial Chapel holds a Sunday morning service as a reminder of those who have given their service and those who have died during the Command's 46-year history. Founded in in 1946, the command was dissolved in a ceremony at Offutt Air Force Base.
1997: OPPD worker Craig Azure of Ashland holds a power line up across Platteview Road near Highway 50 so that an Albatross airplane can fit under it. After SAC was dissolved, the museum moved into a new indoor facility in 1998. Airplanes were moved from their old location at Offutt Air Force Base to their new and current home near Mahoney State Park off I-80.
2000: The parade grounds gazebo at Offutt is dedicated in honor of Airman 1st Class Warren T. Willis, who was killed in an aircraft accident the previous December.
2000: President Bill Clinton speaks at a rally at Offutt Air Force Base.
2003: More than 300 anti-nuclear protesters gather outside Kinney Gate at Offutt Air Force Base. The rally was part of a weekend of protest against nuclear weapons, and was organized in response to an extensive nuclear arsenal review being held at the base.
2006: Vice President Dick Cheney greets service men and women following a speech at Offutt Air Force Base's Minuteman missile in Bellevue.
2012: Dignitaries clap along to an armed forces medley as ground is broken for the new U. S. Strategic Command Headquarters at Offutt Air Force Base. From left: Neb. Rep. Adrian Smith, Rep. Lee Terry, Neb. Governor Dave Heineman, General C. Robert Kehler, Commander USStratcom, Sen. Ben Nelson, Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, and Mayor of Bellevue, Rita Sanders.
2012: Chris Shotton created this thank you message to the airmen and troops flying in and out of Offutt Air Force Base. Employees of area Walmart stores have been writing giant messages in fields near Highway 370 for years.
2013: Senior Airman Kevin Chapman works the desk at the new Public Health Clinic located in the Ehrling Bergquist military medical clinic.
2014: The new MERLIN SS200m Aircraft Birdstrike Avoidance Radar System, with the control tower in the background, photographed at Offutt Air Force Base. The system was moved here from Afghanistan in order to help detect large flocks and prevent damages to aircraft from bids, which cost the Air Force millions of dollars each year.
2015: An aerial photo from late February of the construction site for StratCom's new $1.2 billion headquarters at Offutt Air Force Base. Despite numerous delays and setbacks, the building would be completed in 2018, six years after construction began. StratCom would then spend the next year outfitting the structure with more than $600 million worth of high-tech communications and security gear.
2016: President Barack Obama arrives in Omaha after landing at Offutt Air Force Base. While in Omaha, Obama met with the family of Kerrie Orozco, visited a local teacher, and addressed a crowd of about 8,000 at Baxter Arena.
2019: This year, U.S. Strategic Command unveiled a new Command and Control Facility located at Offutt Air Force Base. The "battle deck," shown here, features computer workstations, soundproofing, and the ability to connect instantly to the White House and Pentagon.
2019: Luke Thomas and Air Force Tech Sgt. Vanessa Vidaurre at a flooded portion of Offutt Air Force Base. In March, historic flooding included breaches of two levees protecting the base from the Missouri River.