Washington – The Coast Guard’s Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron (HITRON) – which includes helicopters that were upgraded through the service’s MH-65 conversion program – marked its 500th drug interdiction when an aircrew stopped a drug-laden go-fast vessel in the Eastern Pacific Ocean March 11.
HITRON consists of 10 MH-65 Dolphin short range recovery helicopters and specializes in counterdrug and counterterrorism missions. Based in Jacksonville, Florida, HITRON was commissioned in 2000 and operates with armed helicopters via Coast Guard cutters and land-based facilities in the service’s southern area of responsibility.
After initially established with MH-68 Stingrays, the unit received MH-65s in 2008 after the Coast Guard began outfitting its fleet of HH-65Cs with airborne use of force capabilities. The helicopters were redesignated as MH-65Cs to showcase their multimission capabilities.
HITRON currently operates MH-65Ds, or Delta models. The upgrade to the Delta models removed older components approaching obsolescence and replaced six legacy gyroscope components with embedded GPS inertial navigation systems (EGIs) to improve the accuracy of maneuvers.
HITRON has operated with a full complement of MH-65Ds since 2012; it has set interdiction and seizure records from fiscal years 2014 through 2016. In fiscal year 2016, HITRON successfully interdicted or stopped 83 vessels and 73,550 kilograms of cocaine, valued at nearly $2.8 billion, at sea in a joint effort with partner agencies.
The Coast Guard is now in the final segment of upgrades for its MH-65 fleet, after which the helicopters will be redesignated as MH-65Es. During these upgrades, the Coast Guard will install digital cockpit architecture and new sensors, such as expanded electro-optical/infrared sensors and integrated weather radar. The upgrades will also improve the reliability of the helicopters’ automatic flight control system; the service on March 14 awarded the contract for the third phase of common avionics architecture system integration to Rockwell Collins Inc.
The prototype MH-65E is undergoing continued testing and certification at the Coast Guard Aviation Logistics Center Elizabeth City, North Carolina. The second MH-65E, produced to validate the upgrades, has been delivered to Coast Guard Aviation Training Center Mobile, Alabama, for use in developing training materials. Low-rate initial production of the MH-65Es is currently planned to begin in 2018.