|Role||Light utility military helicopter|
|Built by||American Eurocopter
Airbus Helicopters, Inc.
|Primary users||United States Army
United States Navy
|Developed from||Eurocopter EC145|
The Eurocopter (now Airbus Helicopters) UH-72 Lakota is a twin-engine helicopter with a single, four-bladed main rotor. The UH-72 is a militarized version of the Eurocopter EC145 and was built by American Eurocopter (now Airbus Helicopters, Inc.), a division of Airbus Group, Inc. Initially marketed as the UH-145, the helicopter was selected as the winner of the United States Army's Light Utility Helicopter (LUH) program on 30 June 2006. In October 2006, American Eurocopter was awarded a production contract for 345 aircraft to replace ageing UH-1H/V and OH-58A/C helicopters in the US Army and Army National Guard fleets.
The U.S. Army's LHX program began in the early 1980s, proposing two helicopter designs with a high percentage of commonality of dynamic components. One was a light utility version ("LHX-U") for assault and tactical movement of troops and supplies, the other was a light scout/attack version ("LHX-SCAT") to complement the growing development of the AH-64 Apache. As the program was developed, the light utility version was dropped and focus was placed on the light attack reconnaissance version, which eventually became the RAH-66 Comanche.
In 2004, the U.S. Department of Defense and the US Army made the decision to terminate the RAH-66 program. As part of the termination, the Army retained the future years' funding intended for the Comanche. To replace the capability of the cancelled Comanche, the US Army planned several programs, including three new aircraft. The Army Staff decided that these three aircraft, the Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter (ARH), the Light Utility Helicopter (LUH), and the Future Cargo Aircraft (FCA) (later renamed Joint Cargo Aircraft, or JCA), were to be existing, in-production commercial aircraft modified for Army service.
The LUH program was initiated in early 2004, with an initial stated requirement for 322 helicopters to conduct homeland security, administrative, logistic, medical evacuation (MEDEVAC) and support of the army test and training centers missions. The LUH contract was released in July 2005. At least five proposals were received, including Bell's 210 and 412, MD Explorer, and AW139. EADS North America (EADS NA) marketed the UH-145 variant of the EC 145 for the program. On 30 June 2006, the U.S. Army announced that the UH-145 as the $3 billion LUH contract's winner. In August, the UH-145 was officially designated UH-72A by the Department of Defense. The award was confirmed in October 2006 following protests from losing bidders. Despite a four-month delay due to the protests, the first UH-72 was delivered on time in December, when the name Lakota was also formally announced for the type, following the service's tradition of giving Native American names to its helicopters.
On 23 August 2007, the UH-72A received full-rate production (FRP) approval to produce an initially-planned fleet of 345 aircraft through 2017. The UH-72A is produced at Airbus Helicopters's facility in Columbus, Mississippi; production transitioned from local assembly of kits received from Eurocopter Deutschland to full local production in 2009. In December 2009, the service ordered 45 more UH-72As. The 100th Lakota was delivered in March 2010, and the 250th UH-72 was delivered in April 2013. That month, the U.S. Army opted to halt procurement after 2014 due to budget cuts; at that point, a total of 312 Lakotas were on order by the service. In January 2014, Congress gave the Army $171 million to procure 20 additional UH-72As. The 300th UH-72 was delivered to the Army in May 2014.
In May 2013, Congress questioned why the UH-72 had not been considered for the armed scout role. The Army Chief of Staff General Ray Odierno stated that the UH-72A was developed for domestic operations and is not considered to be operationally deployable to combat zones. The UH-72 is employed by the US Army National Guard in a utility role in the US, releasing UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters to deploy overseas. On 21 June 2013, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Frank Kendall stated in a letter to Congress that UH-72 combat modifications were "presently unaffordable". Fleet-wide combat modifications would reportedly cost $780 million and add 774 lb (351 kg) of weight per helicopter; changes would include passive and active survivability systems, hardened engines and drive train, external lighting and communications upgrades.
In December 2013, the US Army was considering retiring its OH-58 Kiowa fleet and transferring all Army National Guard and US Army Reserve AH-64 Apaches to the active Army to serve as scout helicopters. With this plan all 100 active Army UH-72s along with 104 National Guard UH-72s would be transferred to use as training helicopters, replacing the TH-67 Creek at the United States Army Aviation Center of Excellence at Fort Rucker, Alabama. Some active Army UH-60 Black Hawks would be transferred to Army Reserve and Army National Guard units for homeland defense and disaster response missions. The proposals aim to retire older helicopters to substantially reduce costs while retaining crucial capabilities. With the prospect of most UH-72s being repurposed as training helicopters, the Army is requesting funds to buy 100 more Lakotas to add to the training fleet. The FY 2015 budget would cover 55 helicopters, and FY 2016 funds would complete the purchase.
On 4 September 2014, the Army issued a notice of intention to buy up to 155 EC145/UH-72s as a training platform "on an other than full and open competitive basis". AgustaWestland launched a judicial bid to have the acquisition declared illegal, having claimed at a hearing that the EC145 did not offer the best value for the money and that its "restricted flight maneuver envelope" impeded its use for training. Airbus defended the Army's position, noting their previous selection of the EC145, claiming AgustaWestland's figures of EC145 costs were exaggerated, and that it was already in use in training roles. Bell Helicopter also criticized the decision, but did not take legal action. On 14 October 2014, a Federal Claims Court issued a temporary order denying the US government's challenge of AgustaWestland's action until the Army issues a final justification and approval (J&A) to sole-source the procurement. The Army contended that the UH-72A falls under the 2006 LUH contract, and so not requiring a new J&A, effectively nullifying the court challenge. The court sided with AugustaWestland, rejecting the Army's J&A, and halted procurement of UH-72s for training after finding that the Army had exaggerated the costs and time required for acquiring a training helicopter. They also found negligence in their initial acquisition process of the UH-72 that effectively tied them to Airbus for the airframe's serviceable life. The court ordered the Army to either conduct a procurement for new training helicopters or stop buying UH-72 trainers. The Army is appealing the decision.
The UH-72 has also proven controversial as a trainer due to perceived problems with using the helicopter for an initial trainer. A study by the National Commission on the Future of the Army, a commission established by Congress to make recommendations on force structure of the Army to the president, concluded that the UH-72 was cost-prohibitive as a training helicopter, and there were cheaper options available for purchase. In addition it also showed that the majority of instructor pilots disapprove of the use of the UH-72, deeming it "too much aircraft for the mission", and unsuitable as an initial entry trainer. The UH-72 has also been criticized for its inability to teach touchdown auto-rotations, among other maneuvers. This issue has previously caused the German Army to stop using a version of the UH-72 for their initial trainer after Airbus advised them the helicopter was not suitable for initial training. The US Navy also rejected the UH-72 as a suitable trainer for the same reason.
The Armed Scout 645 (EC645) was a proposed armed version of the UH-72 for the US Army's Armed Aerial Scout (AAS) program for an OH-58D replacement. On 4 May 2009, EADS and Lockheed Martin announced a teaming agreement for the 645. Three demonstrator AAS-72X aircraft were built and began flight testing in late 2010. In September 2012, EADS began voluntary flight demonstrations of both an AAS-72X and an EC145 T2 at high altitudes, reportedly meeting with performance requirements. Two versions were offered: the AAS-72X, an armed version of the UH-72; and the AAS-72X+, an armed militarized version of the EC-145T2. In late 2013, the US Army announced the termination of the AAS program.
In May 2012, the UH-72A was submitted in the US Air Force's Common Vertical Life Support Platform (CVLSP) program for a UH-1N Twin Huey replacement. As with the US Army, the UH-72A can operate in permissive environments, such as ICBM site support and security under the Air Force Global Strike Command and personnel transport in the National Capital Region by the Air Mobility Command's 89th Airlift Wing. Advantages over the UH-1N include 30 percent more speed, range, and loiter time, enhanced reliability and crashworthiness, night vision compatibility, modern avionics, and being cheaper to operate. In August 2013, the USAF said it planned to sustain the UH-1N for six to ten more years. In September 2013, acting Air Force Secretary Eric Fanning received a letter from the CEO of EADS North America, arguing that to refit and maintain the Hueys costs more than to acquire and operate UH-72As; the letter also urged prompt action as Army orders were almost complete and production was winding down. The USAF said it had insufficient funding for such a procurement and can risk using Hueys for a while. EADS North America stated that the UH-72A "will lower the risk to the U.S. Air Force nuclear enterprise, and will save taxpayers the considerable cost of future recapitalization." Reportedly, buying UH-72As would cost as much as upgrading 62 Hueys, but long-term operating costs would be much lower.
The UH-72 is designed to take on a range of missions, from general support and medical evacuation (MEDEVAC) to personnel recovery and counter-narcotics operations. They are planned to replace the UH-1 and OH-58A/C, which are older light utility helicopters, and supplant other types in domestic use, primarily those in Army National Guard service. The UH-72 is being procured as a commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) product, which simplifies logistics support of the fleet. EADS NA has teamed with Sikorsky to provide Contractor Logistics Support (CLS) for the UH-72, through its Helicopter Support, Inc. (HSI)/Sikorsky Aerospace Maintenance. (SAM) subsidiaries.
The basic UH-72A is simply a commercial EC145 helicopter that has a US Army color scheme and is fitted with an AN/ARC-231 radio. Other than utility transport, the Lakota can be configured for medical evacuation, VIP transport, security and support, and opposing forces training. It is described as the best military aircraft in the inventory for domestic operations, used by the Army National Guard for state support, disaster relief, and homeland defense and by non-deployed active units for MEDEVAC and training. Compared to the previous UH-1 Huey used in those roles, the twin-engine Lakota flies faster (145 kn or 269 km/h or 167 mph versus 124 kn or 230 km/h or 143 mph), has an external hoist system, and has a fully integrated computerized cockpit. The Huey has an advantage in the MEDEVAC role, being able to carry three patients compared to the Lakota's two-patient load, but an average evacuation typically deals with two or fewer patients. The Security & Support Mission Equipment Package (S&S MEP) is a version of the UH-72A for homeland security, counter drug, and border patrol missions. It is equipped with an electro-optical/infrared sensor and laser pointer turret, moving map system and touch-screen displays, video management system, digital video recorded and datalink, searchlight, and rescue hoist from the MEDEVAC package.
The first aircraft was delivered to the US Army on 11 December 2006 in Columbus, Mississippi. On 12 December 2006, General Richard A. Cody, Vice Chief of Staff of the Army, and Joe Red Cloud, a chief of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, Lakota nation, accepted the first UH-72A in an official ceremony. The service estimated that delivery of the planned 345 aircraft would continue until 2017.
The first production helicopters were sent to the National Training Center (NTC), Fort Irwin, California for medical evacuation missions in January 2007. On 20 June 2007, the NTC's US Army Air Ambulance Detachment (USAAAD) became the first operational unit to field the Lakota. On 10 July 2007, the Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) Flight Detachment at Fort Eustis, Virginia became the second US Army unit fielded with the UH-72A.
A report published in August 2007 by the Operational Test and Evaluation Directorate (DOT&E) noted that although the Lakota "...is effective in the performance of light utility missions," it was prone to overheating during operations in the desert conditions of Fort Irwin when not equipped with air conditioning systems. In response, vents were added in the doors to increase cabin air flow; air conditioning has been installed on some Medical and VIP versions, as well as added air conditioning units for crew comfort.
The Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) located at Fort Polk, Louisiana received their first aircraft on 7 September 2007. On 16 January 2009, the United States Military Academy received two UH-72As, replacing two UH-1H helicopters for VIP transport to and from the academy. The helicopters also support the cadet parachute team and cadet training missions. The US Naval Test Pilot School received the first of five UH-72As in September 2009. The UH-72A replaced the TH-6B Cayuse as the prime training aircraft for the test pilot school's helicopter curriculum.
By March 2010, the Lakota entered service in Puerto Rico, Kwajalein Atoll, and the US Army's missile test range in Germany. On 20 December 2010, a UH-72A assigned to the Puerto Rico Army National Guard became the first UH-72A to experience a fatal accident. The aircraft crashed at sea off the coast of Puerto Rico and all six personnel aboard were killed.
On 18 July 2012, the US Army's Aviation Flight Test Directorate received three UH-72As at Redstone Arsenal, Huntsville, Alabama; they are used for general support and as chase aircraft to support aviation development testing. With this delivery, the service has received over 200 UH-72As. On 22 September 2012, the Oregon Army National Guard's Detachment 1, C Company, 1–112 Aviation, received the first of four UH-72A helicopters during a roll-out ceremony at Camp Rilea in Warrenton, Oregon.
On 25 March 2015, Airbus completed assembly of the first UH-72A made specifically for training for the US Army. The training configuration of the Lakota differs from the baseline model in several ways, including an observer seat for the instructor, a "buzz number" on its side for easy identification, and a flight control system that allows it to communicate with Fort Rucker. As part of the Army's aviation restructure initiative, Fort Rucker's fleet of TH-67 training helicopters will be replaced with 187 UH-72s, comprising 106 purpose-built trainers and 81 existing versions that will be modified.
On 7 June 2013, Thailand requested the sale of six UH-72A Lakotas with associated equipment, training, and support for an estimated cost of $77 million. On 9 October 2013, the Thai government approved $55 million in funds to support the Royal Thai Army's acquisition of six UH-72A helicopters from 2013 to 2015. On 28 March 2014, the Thai Army awarded a $34 million contract to Airbus Helicopter for six UH-72As, fitted with a mission equipment package including the AN/ARC-231 airborne radio terminal; deliveries were to begin by April 2015. On 29 September 2014, Congress was notified of a Thailand request for the sale of another nine UH-72 Lakotas, related equipment, and support. By November 2015, the six helicopters had been delivered.
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