REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala.--The United States and its borders are safer today thanks to the hard work of the Utility Helicopters Project Office.

The UHPO delivered the first of four modified UH-60M helicopters to the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Customs and Border Protection in a transfer of ownership ceremony Sept. 14. Patricia Martin, director of engineering directorate for AMRDEC, presented the Black Hawk's keys and logbook to Michael Kostelnik, retired Air Force major general, and assistant commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Office of Air and Marine, at the Prototype Integration Facility, where the four helicopters are receiving the modifications.

"The U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency and the Army have a lot in common -- defense and protection of our nation for today and tomorrow," Martin said. "So it is no coincidence that our men and women in uniform need similar capabilities to best perform their mission. … That's what this project is all about, working together across services and branches, across government and industry, working together in our country's best interest to rapidly and efficiently deliver the best products for the protection and defense of our citizens."

The first delivery marks a team effort that has been three years in the making. The four helicopters will be sent to Miami Air Branch, where they will be used for support operations in Florida, Puerto Rico and the Caribbean, and wherever else they may be needed over the course of their years of service, whether it's extra security at the Super Bowl or Olympics, natural disasters like floods or fires in the Southeast, or protecting the border from drug cartels in the Southwest region.

"The world continues to be a dangerous place," Kostelnik said.

The four aircraft, have or are in the process of receiving, more than 19 modifications at the PIF tailored to the mission of CBP, including communications equipment that allow real-time coordination of activity and situational awareness, including the ability to communicate with law enforcement and medical personnel on the ground, sensors which allow high fidelity resolution to provide CBP with the best ability to deter, detect and prevent threats, and navigation equipment that will allow CBP to operate in all weather conditions and all airspaces, Martin said. The PIF led project management, design, fabrication, integration, logistics and training efforts.

"It's built to Army combat standards so it includes armor and protections that we might need," Kostelnik said. "It brings the unique war-fighting capabilities that the military deploys in high-threat area overseas to similar high-threat areas in the homeland should those types of activities materialize."

"We just experienced the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks," Martin said. "Much has occurred during those 10 years -- the intensity of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency mission increased exponentially and more. As the largest law enforcement organization in the nation, Homeland Security's Customs and Border Protection is charged with the crucial role of securing the U.S. from terrorists and other threats while facilitating legitimate safe trade and travel."

The helicopters and their specially tailored modifications will not only aid in protecting the United States from the threats it faces now, but those that are yet to come.

"It's not just about the missions we have today, but about preparing for the missions of the future," Kostelnik said.

The work is also good preparation for the PIF should the Army ever decide that they want their Soldiers to have the same modifications as those Homeland Security's four Black Hawks will receive. Having already worked through the modification process for CBP, it "makes it faster, more efficient and can very quickly assist the war fighter in the fight," Lt. Col. Heyward Wright, UH-60 A/L/M product manager, said. The remaining aircraft will be delivered in October, November and January.

Page last updated Wed September 21st, 2011 at 15:44