GARY | The Indiana National Guard on Monday officially welcomed two new helicopters housed in Gary that are equipped with the latest technology to help with a host of local missions
"The security and support mission and package that's in this aircraft is extraordinary," Brig. Gen. Brian Copes, chief of the joint staff of the Indiana National Guard, said.
The new UH-72 utility helicopters replace the OH-58 helicopters at the Indiana Army National Guard Aviation Support Facility.
The UH-72, nicknamed the Lakota, is designed to perform a variety of missions. Each helicopter costs just under $6 million.
The helicopters replace two aircraft that have been in service with the U.S. Army since 1969 and were used in many conflicts, including the Vietnam War.
Indiana is one of 22 states to receive the new helicopters.
Pilots stationed at the Gary aviation facility trained for 10 days in Texas to learn how to fly the Lakotas then spent another two weeks in Alabama learning how to use the new technology on the aircraft.
Maj. Chuck Yingst of the Indiana National Guard described the Lakotas as, "state of the art, fully automated, security and support aircraft."
A key aspect of the new helicopters, officials said, is their ability to provide greater interagency communication through tools such as real-time video transmission from the helicopter to computers on the ground.
Officials said National Guard helicopters in the region assist in a number of ways, including with counter-drug operations with local and state police, counter-terrorism missions, disaster response and military support.
Over the past four years, the National Guard flying out of Gary has assisted the Indiana State Police in its counter-drug program. The work helped to confiscate more than 412,000 marijuana plants, removed over 23 tons of processed marijuana with an $18 million street value and resulted in more than 1,000 arrests, National Guard officials said.
Retired Col. Ted Mickevicius of the Michigan National Guard is vice-president of Airbus Group, Inc., which manufactured the helicopters. The company employs about 300 people at its Mississippi plant, about half of which are veterans.
"Now your National Guard will be better prepared than ever to answer the call," Mickevicius said.