Agusta, March 22, 2002 - The U.S. Coast Guard's first patrols using tough new tactics employing armed MH-68s, a dedicated version of the twin-engine Agusta A109 Power helicopter, scored a perfect three busts in three attempts against drug-laden speedboats bound for U.S. shores. The U.S. Coast Guard’s three interdictions netted a combined total of more than 13,000 pounds of cocaine along with several arrests.
Present operational doctrine authorises MH-68 crews to disable the engines through pinpoint rifle fire of suspected vessels that fail to halt following several warnings. These include verbal demands to do so transmitted via loudspeaker, and tracer fire across the vessel’s bow.
Owing to an increasingly sophisticated quarry, traditional Coast Guard tactics were successful in seizing only one out of ten suspect vessels. That record of futility prompted the Agency to lease eight MH-68 gunships, now assigned to the USCG’s Helicopter Tactical Squadron (HITRON) based in Jacksonville, Florida. Today, HITRON's crews are deployed onto USCG cutters patrolling the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.
The MH-68 is a dedicated version of the Agusta 109 Power helicopter. In 2000, Agusta, an AgustaWestland Company, was awarded a contract by the United States Coast Guard calling for the supply of eight A109 Powers for the USCG’s HITRON TEN program. The contract was won by Agusta following a vigorous competition with other major helicopter manufacturers, and marks the first time Agusta has been selected by a Federal agency of the United States to provide helicopters in support of the agency’s aviation missions. Final aircraft completion and delivery were provided by Agusta Aerospace Corporation, Agusta’s wholly owned U.S. subsidiary in Philadelphia, PA, which is also responsible for HITRON’s support.
Besides service with the USCG, the A109 Power has also been selected for law enforcement duties by Italian, British, Nigerian and Chinese agencies. Additionally, it serves military roles with the South African Air Force, Swedish MoD and Italian Navy. The A109 Power, the only twin light helicopter capable of ship-based operations, was again confirmed worldwide as the best-selling light twin helicopter in 2001. And with more than 250 orders booked since entering the market in 1996, the A109 Power is heading towards another record-breaking year in 2002.