|Role||Light utility helicopter|
American Eurocopter (assembly)
|Primary user||United States Army|
|Number built||250 (April 2013)|
|Developed from||Eurocopter EC 145|
The Eurocopter 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 is built by American Eurocopter division of EADS North America. 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 aging UH-1H/V and OH-58A/C helicopters in the U.S. 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 Department of Defense and the U.S. Army made the decision to terminate the RAH-66 program. As part of the termination, the service was allowed to keep the future years' funding programmed for the Comanche. To replace the capability that the Comanche was supposed to offer, the U.S. 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 late July 2005. At least five proposals were received. The competitors included the Bell 210 and Bell 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 EADS NA entry had won the competition for the LUH contract, the value for which was estimated as being worth over $3 billion. In August, the UH-145 airframe was officially designated the UH-72A by the Department of Defense. The UH-145 award was confirmed in October 2006 following protests from losing bidders. Despite the impact of the four-month delay due to the protests, EADS NA was able to deliver the first UH-72 on time in December, at which time the name Lakota was also formally announced for the type, in line with the service's long-standing tradition of giving its helicopters Native American names. The LUH marked EADS NA's largest DoD contract to date, and added to existing programs including the U.S. Coast Guard's HH-65 Dolphin and HC-144A and various other defense and security systems contracts.
On 23 August 2007, the UH-72A received full-rate production (FRP) approval, allowing the U.S. Army to procure the planned quantity of 345 aircraft through 2017 as of June 2008. The UH-72A is produced at American Eurocopter's facility in Columbus, Mississippi; production transitioned from local assembly of aircraft kits received from Eurocopter Deutschland to full local production in 2009. In December 2009, the service ordered 45 more UH-72As, increasing the order total to 178. The 100th Lakota was delivered in March 2010. A total of 180 had been delivered by late August 2011; the 250th UH-72 was delivered in April 2013. That month, the U.S. Army had opted to halt UH-72 procurement after 2014 due to budget cuts; at this 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.
In May 2013, Congress questioned why the UH-72 had not been considered for a possible armed scout role. The Army Chief of Staff General Ray Odierno responded that the UH-72A was developed for domestic operations and is not considered to be operationally deployable to combat zones. The UH-72 is typically employed by the U.S. Army National Guard as a utility helicopter in the U.S., which released 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 modifications to the Lakota for combat conditions were "presently unaffordable." The service determined that fleet-wide combat modifications would cost $780 million and add 774 lb (351 kg) of weight to each helicopter; changes would include passive and active survivability systems, hardened engines and drive train, new external lighting, and communications upgrades.
As of December 2013, the U.S. Army is considering retiring its OH-58 Kiowa fleet and transferring all National Guard and U.S. Army Reserve AH-64 Apaches to the active Army units to serve as scout helicopters. All 100 active Army UH-72s along with 104 Army 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. 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.
The Armed Scout 645 (EC645) was a proposed armed version of the UH-72 for the U.S. Army's Armed Aerial Scout OH-58D replacement program offered by EADS and Lockheed Martin. The companies announced a teaming agreement for the Armed Scout 645 on 4 May 2009. Three flight demonstrator aircraft named AAS-72X were built in 2010. They began flight testing in late 2010. In September 2012, EADS began voluntary flight demonstrations of the aircraft. Over the next two weeks they flew an AAS-72X and an EC145 T2 at high altitudes. Flying took place from September 24 to October 3, and the aircraft met performance requirements. Two versions of the aircraft were being offered for the program: the AAS-72X, an armed version of the UH-72; and the AAS-72X+, an armed military version of EADS subsidiary Eurocopter's civilian EC-145T2. The Army ended the AAS program in late 2013.
In May 2012, the UH-72A was entered as a candidate in the U.S. Air Force's Common Vertical Life Support Platform (CVLSP) program to replace the UH-1N Twin Huey helicopter. As with the U.S. Army, the Lakota can replace the Hueys in permissive environments, such as ICBM site support and security for UH-1Ns assigned to 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 Air Force said it planned to sustain the UH-1N for six to ten years. On 16 September 2013, acting Air Force Secretary Eric Fanning received a letter from the chairman and CEO of EADS North America, arguing that to refit and maintain the Hueys would cost more than acquiring and operating the UH-72A; the letter also urged the Air Force to act soon, as Army orders were almost complete and the production line was winding down. The air service has said they have little money and can risk using the Hueys for a few more years, EADS North America stated that the Lakota "will lower the risk to the U.S. Air Force nuclear enterprise, and will save taxpayers the considerable cost of future recapitalization." Reportedly buying Lakotas would cost as much as upgrading 62 Hueys, while 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 U.S. 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/167 mph versus 124 kn/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 less 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. Army received three UH-72A Lakotas at Redstone Arsenal, Huntsville, Alabama. These aircraft are be used by the Aviation Flight Test Directorate for general support and as chase aircraft to support developmental testing of aircraft and aviation systems. 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 new UH-72A Lakota helicopters during a roll-out ceremony at Camp Rilea in Warrenton, Oregon.
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, they are to be fitted with a mission equipment package including the AN/ARC-231 airborne radio terminal; deliveries are to begin by April 2015.
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