The US Army’s UH-72A Lakota Light Utility Helicopter (LUH), equipped with the security and support (S&S) battalion mission equipment package (MEP), has begun operational service.

The first S&S Battalion Lakota, developed by EADS North America, has been retrofitted to allow Army National Guard units to continuously support federal law enforcement and first responders during disasters or emergency situations.

The MEP includes an electro-optical infrared sensor, an onboard computer, enhanced radios, touch-screen monitors and GPS.

The package improves mission performance by providing still imagery and real-time streaming video to ground stations or command centres, a street address capability and a 30 million candle power search light.

The helicopters are used to perform medical evacuation, search and rescue operations, homeland security, VIP transport, disaster response and relief, general aviation support, combat flight training and pilot sustainment training.

The aircraft will replace the aging OH-58 and UH-1 rotary-wing aircraft, while allowing UH-60 Black Hawks to participate in combat missions.

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The US Army has ordered 232 UH-72As out of 345 helicopters, under a Defense Acquisition Category (ACAT) I programme that will run through 2015.