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Monday, May 1, 2006

Rotorcraft Report: Military—U.S. Coast Guard Helos to Go All-Airborne Use of Force by 2009

Jim McKenna

May 1, 2005

After years of dabbling in airborne use of force with a single dedicated unit of eight aircraft, the U.S. Coast Guard is fully embracing that mission and plans to upgrade all of its helicopters to perform it.

Capt. William W. Peterson, the Coast Guard's chief of aviation forces, told the Federal Chapter of the American Helicopter Society International in Washington that the service will replace the eight MH-68A Sting Rays (a version of the A109 Power) leased from AgustaWestland and by Fiscal 2009 will fit all of its HH-60J Jayhawks and re-engined Eurocopter HH-65s with M240 .50-caliber machine guns and Robar precision rifles, the latter for use in shooting out engine blocks. President Bush's proposed budget for Fiscal 2006 includes $20 million to start the conversions. While the Jayhawks will be re-designated MH-60Ts, the refitted Dolphins will be called MH-65Cs. The Sting Rays are operated by the service's CGAS Jacksonville, Fla.-based Hitron squadron.

"We want to be able to perform organic aviation use of force" at each of the Coast Guard's 24 air stations and five air facilities," Peterson said.

Interestingly, the MH-60Ts and MH-65Cs will also carry precision anti-personnel weapons derived from the 7.62mm M14 rifle. Officials associated with Hitron take pains to stress that their weapons are specifically not used against people. This is because the unit's aircraft operate mainly over international waters, and international law has detailed and specific restrictions on when and how weapons can be fired at people from aircraft. The armed Jayhawks and Dolphins often will operate within the domestic U.S., where legal restrictions are less stringent.

Since 2001, Hitron has tested and proven the ability to employ force from airborne helicopters. That unit deploys throughout the Caribbean and the United States, mainly to assist in interdicting illegal drug shipments on "go fast" boats. In the 2003 and 2004 period, Coast Guard-assisted seizures of illegal drug shipments reached records levels, "primarily because of the Sting Rays," Peterson said.

The A109 Power was selected in part because the Coast Guard's HH-65s lacked the power to carry the armament and perform the maneuvers required by the airborne-use-of-force mission. The Dolphins' LTS101 engines are being replaced with Turbomeca Arriel 2C2-CG engines, whose additional power should allow the aircraft to fly airborne-use-of-force missions.

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