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Monday, October 1, 2007

Rotorcraft Report: U.S. Coast Guard Fielding Armed HH-65Cs, -60Js

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The U.S. Coast Guard plans to field its first unit of armed American Eurocopter HH-65C Dolphins in February and is making all its helicopters capable of carrying machine guns and rifles.

As a part of its mission for the U.S. Homeland Security Dept. to intercept illegal drug runners, will make the 95 Dolphins it flies capable of being armed. The Coast Guard hopes to purchase seven more by the middle of Fiscal 2008. The first unit to be armed will be the Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Sqdn. 10 (HITRON) in Jacksonville, Fla., which has been flying the airborne-use-of-force mission against drug smugglers for several years with eight leased AgustaWestland A109s, dubbed MH-68A Stingrays in the Coast Guard configuration. That unit is transitioning to the Dolphins now.

The HH-65Cs may be armed with the M-240 7.62 mm machine gun made by Fabrique Nationale Manufacturing, Inc., Columbia, S.C. and a gun mount from the Crane Div. of the U.S. Naval Surface Warfare Center in Bethesda, Md. The aircraft may also carry a.50 caliber Barret M-107 rifle. The weapons are not permanent to any one aircraft and may be removed by the crew.

The HH-65s have been re-engined with two Turbomeca Arriel 2C2 engines over the last year Six of the aircraft are to be in Jacksonville in January. Four more are to be delivered in mid-2008.

In 1999, the Coast Guard armed the McDonnell Douglas MD-900 under a pilot program designed to interdict drug smuggling by sea into the United States. HITRON initially consisted of six pilots and four aviation gunners charged with intercepting so-called "go-fast" boats used by smugglers to bring drugs to drop points along the coast of Florida.

The Coast Guard decided to arm the HH-60J Jayhawk in 2003. It designated the unit at CGAS Cape Cod, Mass. as a proof-of-concept unit and tested the aircraft for several months. CGAS San Diego was the first operational unit in early 2006. After September 11, 2001 the Coast Guard was given a mandate to expand and develop its homeland security mission. The Jayhawks primary mission is homeland security and to patrol port and coastal waterways. Currently, there are 41 HH-60Js in the Coast Guard.

The Coast Guard says standardizing the aircraft across the service will make the transition easier for pilots who go from one unit to the next.

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