|Role||Light utility helicopter|
|National origin||United States|
American Eurocopter (assembly)
|Primary user||United States Army|
|Developed from||Eurocopter EC 145|
The 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. 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 and OH-58A/C helicopters in the Army and Army National Guard fleets.
The US 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 US Army made the decision to terminate the RAH-66 program. As part of the termination, the Army was allowed to keep the future years' funding programmed for the Comanche. To replace the capability that the Comanche was supposed to offer, the 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 EC145 for the program.
On 30 June 2006, the 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 associated with the protests, EADS NA was still able to deliver the first UH-72 on time during a ceremony in December, at which time the name Lakota was also formally announced for the type, in line with the Army's long-standing tradition of giving its helicopters Indian 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.
The Lakota received full rate production (FRP) approval on 23 August 2007. This will allow the Army to buy the full quantity of aircraft, planned at 345 through 2017 as of June 2008. The UH-72A is being produced at American Eurocopter's facility in Columbus, Mississippi. Production is currently transitioning over from local assembly of aircraft kits received from Eurocopter Deutschland to full local production, which is slated to begin in March 2009. EADS NA delivered the fiftieth UH-72A on 16 December 2008. In December 2009, the Army ordered 45 more UH-72As to bring the total on order to 178.
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, thereby greatly simplifying 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 Support Services, Inc. (SSSI) subsidiaries.
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. Initial helicopters were sent to the National Training Center (NTC), Fort Irwin, California for medical evacuation missions in January 2007. The UH-72A Lakotas will replace the NTC's UH-60 Black Hawks, which will be transferred to the Army National Guard for operational missions.
On 20 June 2007, the NTC Aeromedical Aviation Detachment received its sixth UH-72A, and 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 Army unit fielded with the UH-72A.
The UH-72A was fielded to the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) located at Fort Polk, Louisiana on 7 September 2007. Fort Polk is currently operating 10 LUHs and will stand up the first LUH battalion in FY09 with 26 aircraft. Approximately one-third of Lakotas will be delivered to regular Army units, with the remaining two-thirds serving with the Army National Guard.
In August 2007, a report by the DoD's 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. Door vents were added to enhance cabin air flow. Medical and VIP versions also added air conditioning units for improved comfort.
On January 16, 2009, the United States Military Academy received two new UH-72As, replacing the academy's aging UH-1H Iroquois helicopters. The Lakota's primary mission is transport for VIP travel to and from the academy. The helicopter also supports the cadet parachute team and cadet training missions.
A proposed armed version of the UH-72/EC 145 being offered for the US Army's OH-58D replacement program. EADS and Lockheed Martin announced a teaming agreement on 4 May 2009 to produce the version. An evaluation will take place in 2010 with 3 to 4 flying prototypes.