WASHINGTON: As part of upgrading the Army’s air fleet, 140 of 345 planned UH-72A Lakota Light Utility Helicopters have been delivered and are currently being broken-in throughout the force.
Aiding homeland security, search and rescue missions, medical evacuations, and security and support, Lakotas are smaller, more affordable and more technologically advanced than older counterparts such as the UH-1 “Huey” Iroquois.
The latest version of the Lakota, the security and support model, was on display at the Pentagon Nov. 18 so senior Army leaders could take a look at the newest member of the Army’s air fleet.
The security and support Lakota comes equipped with day and night cameras which can track targets at up to nine miles away, a large search light, a navigation system which can locate a street address rather than only a grid coordinate, and a communications system that can be synched with first responders on the ground.
Col. Neil Thurgood, project manager for Utility Helicopters at Redstone Arsenal, Ala., explained that Lakotas are well-suited for disaster response scenarios such as Hurricane Katrina. For this reason, Thurgood explained, the Lakota aircraft are almost exclusively being used by the National Guard in support of homeland security.
“From an Army aviation perspective, this is the next evolution of replacing older airframes with newer airframes,” Thurgood said.
Fielded since 2007, the Army has also ordered the Lakota in mission-equipment packages for medical purposes and for VIPs.
“The expense of running this aircraft is significantly lower than our aging aircraft. The older an aircraft gets, the more expensive it is to maintain it,” Thurgood said.
While the Lakota can be flown anywhere the Army deems permissible, Thurgood said there are no current plans to send the helicopter into combat. However, the addition of more Lakota aircraft to troops in the U.S. will free up other helicopters such as UH-60 BlackHawks to go overseas.
“I hear back from the commanders and pilots, and they just applaud it,” said Lt. Col. Dave Bristol, product manager for Lakota helicopters, adding that it’s easy to fly.
Bristol said the most beneficial aspect of the aircraft is its versatility.
“At the end of the day there is a Soldier flying that aircraft, and our responsibility is to give them a safe, flyable aircraft that they can do their mission with, and that’s our number one priority,” said Thurgood.