February 28, 2010: The U.S. State Department is upgrading its air force by purchasing 110 refurbished S-61T helicopters. These are in big demand for use in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. Also known as the H-3 and Sea King, the nine ton S-61 helicopter is a late 1950s design, and contemporary of the U.S. Army's UH-1 "Huey." In the U.S., the Sea Kings were replaced by a navy version of the Hueys successor, the UH-60 Blackhawk. Over a dozen other navies bought the Sea King, and many still use it. While these aircraft are getting old, when refurbished (often involving substantial rebuilding), they are good as new.
The Sea King has a range of about a thousand kilometers, and a top speed of 210 kilometers an hour. Most were used for anti-submarine warfare and search and rescue. Some 1,500 were built (about ten percent were the civilian S-61 version), and hundreds are still in use. Such long service lives are increasingly common. Some of the first Sea Kings survived for over three decades. The U.S. Marines Corps still uses them, and the U.S. Navy only retired the model this year. The S-61 is still used for transporting the U.S. president.
The State Department has its own air force of over 500 helicopters and fixed wing aircraft, along with an armed security force. For nearly a century, the State Department has had a security force, the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (BDS). Over a hundred of the 1,400 BDS personnel belong to a more specialized organization, the Mobile Security Deployment (MSD). Members of MSD are trained to deal with kidnapping or terrorist threats at embassies. Most members are former military, and receive an additional six months training at a special State Department facility in Virginia. The skills they acquire are special operations type things, including how to drive a car in a combat situation. The MSD agents are mainly used to analyze dangerous situations, come up with a security plan, and carry out direct action (commando type stuff) if needed. Mainly, the MSD is a defensive organization, trained and equipped to protect diplomatic personnel, and especially classified documents, under the most trying circumstances. That involves knowing how to evacuate an embassy under attack, usually with the help of U.S. Marines or SOCOM operatives.