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Homeland Security

US Army modified UH-60M used in arrest of alleged members of Mexican drug cartel

October 17, 2011

By Ms Kristen Kushiyama (CERDEC)

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- Blackhawk helicopters modified by the U.S. Army for the Mexican military were used in an operation in Colombia, Nuevo Leon, Mexico that led to the arrest of alleged members of Los Zetas.

Elements of the Mexican Secretary of the Navy (Semar) arrested 19 alleged members of Los Zetas, a Mexican drug cartel, according to a Sept. 20 article by Ruben Mosso in the Milenio, a Mexican newspaper.

The Mexican Marines involved in the operation utilized a rope to rapidly descend from the Blackhawk ensuring the arrest of the alleged members and confiscation of rifles, magazines for fire arms, various calibers of ammunition, a ballistics vest, and military-style uniforms and boots.

The fast-rope system used by the Mexican Marines was a modification to the helicopter that was installed during post-production modifications by the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command's communications-electronics center's Flight Activity in Lakehurst, N.J.

Prior to entering the Mexican Navy fleet of aircraft, three Blackhawk helicopters were sent to the CERDEC Flight Activity, or CFA, where the Fast Rope Insertion/Extraction System, and Martin Baker seat pallets and seats were added to the aircrafts, said Charles Maraldo, director of the CFA.

The CFA also painted each aircraft with the appropriate military markings and colorings to fit the Mexican Navy color scheme, said Maraldo.

In addition to providing modifications to the Mexican Navy's UH-60M Blackhawks, the CFA performs post-production work on the U.S. Army's UH-60M and HH-60M fleet, said Maraldo.

"To date over 250 'Mike' models have been modified in various ways by the CFA with virtually all going to units actively engaged," said Maraldo.

With multiple hangars and almost 170,000 square feet of working hangar space, the CFA provides end-to-end aviation support for emerging C4ISR technologies, quick reaction capabilities to units and post-production aircraft modifications. The CFA also has in-house shop space for machining, fabricating parts, finishing and painting.

The Foreign Military Sales Office of the U.S. Army's Project Manager Utility Helicopter contacted the CFA to pursue a partnership to accomplish modifications to the three Mexican Navy helicopters, according to Cricket Rott, CFA Quality Assurance and Technical Support.

"In doing so, we have provided a proven airframe to allow the Mexico Navy the ability to fight the war on drugs," said Rott.

The CFA also partners with other Department of Defense agencies, members of industry and academia.

"As long as there is a DoD purpose and mission, we can work with anyone," said Maraldo.

Between the CFA fleet of more than 15 aircraft and CERDEC's Night Vision and Electronic Sensors Directorate's eight-aircraft fleet in Fort Belvoir, Va., CERDEC averages 40 research and development modifications per year on aircrafts.

Additionally, there are 13 pilots, who are both fixed wing and rotary wing qualified, assigned to the CFA averaging over 8,000 hours of flight time each. Of those pilots, nine have combat experience with five of those combat pilots having experience from either Operation Enduring Freedom or Operation Iraqi Freedom, or both.

The CFA is located in New Jersey at the Naval Air Engineering Station Lakehurst portion of Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, which combined McGuire Air Force Base, Fort Dix and Naval Air Engineering Station Lakehurst into a 19-mile long joint base in October 2009. The Joint Base has contiguous controlled airspace, according to Maraldo.

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