National Guard Helicopters Upgraded For Homeland Security Missions

By Grace V. Jean
First responders and law enforcement authorities have long complained of the difficulty in communicating and sharing information with their military counterparts during homeland missions.

To help overcome those challenges, the Army is equipping the UH-72A Lakota light utility helicopter with a new mission package to enable pilots and operators to talk and share data with civil authorities and state agencies, said Col. L. Neil Thurgood, project manager for utility helicopters.

As part of a $152 million contract, Lakota manufacturer EADS this year will begin delivering the suite of systems, including video sensors, touch-screen displays, digital video recorders and data downlinks, aboard the security and support battalion aircraft variants.

“The all-digital cockpit provides situational awareness with a high-capacity datalink,” said John Burke, EADS North America vice president and manager of the UH-72A program. The air-ground data link will give troops the ability to transmit analog and digital imagery in real time to ground stations that can receive it.

Unlike its military rotary-wing cousins, the Lakota also will be able to navigate by street addresses rather than grid coordinates.

Designed to fly in permissive environments, the commercial-based aircraft is conducting Army and National Guard missions ranging from medical evacuation, search and rescue and drug interdiction to transport and general aviation support.

It is helping the Army cope with its shortage of Blackhawk helicopters in the war efforts. Army officials have swapped out 23 state-side Blackhawks with Lakotas, which are now participating in combat and medical evacuation operations at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, Calif., and transporting senior leaders and distinguished guests at various Army installations across the nation.

Topics: Homeland Security, Air Transportation, Disaster Response

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