Co-developed in China: US Homeland Security Orders EC120 Helis
eDefense Online notes that EADS subsidiary American Eurocopter received an order from the US Department of Homeland Security Customs and Border Protection for 10 Light Sign Cutter EC120 helicopters. This acquisition is the first order under a DHS contract that could involve as many as 55 helicopters, with a potential total value of up to $75 million.
The EADS release explains that their Light Sign Cutter designation refers to the lightweight class of rotary-wing aircraft earmarked for this mission and is a recognition of the expert trackers known as sign cutters. The EC120s have a number of characteristics useful for security patrol missions, including a very low noise level that makes them less likely to advertise their presence from afar to the targets of their surveillance.
Interestingly, a previous DID article identifies the EC120 helicopter as an EADS co-development project with China…
The EADS release associated with DID’s article “EADS to Co-develop EC175 Helicopter With China” noted that:
“The EC175 project follows in the footsteps of the past programs, which spawned increasingly tight cooperative ties between Chinese industry and Eurocopter. The licensed production of the Dauphin in 1980, followed by the industrial cooperation on the EC120 in 1992, paved the way to this more ambitious, equally shared helicopter codevelopment program.
The first codevelopment program of the EC120 light helicopter is a real success story. More than 500 EC120s have been sold throughout the world, and today the helicopter is the best seller in its category.”
A November 20, 2003 release from American Eurocopter, meanwhile, had this to say:
“Recognizing the legitimate wish of the Chinese government to develop its own aeronautical industry, Eurocopter had offered, in the early nineties, to go beyond license agreements and to develop, jointly with CATIC-HAFEI and Singapore Aerospace, a new helicopter from scratch.
The choice was made for a five-seater aircraft known as the EC120, each partner being responsible for its own share.
CATIC/HAMC (China), which has a 24% stake in the program, is responsible for the design and manufacture of fully equipped fuselages, complete with their fuel system.
Singapore Aerospace, with its 15% share, is responsible for access doors, the tail boom and the composite structure of the Fenestron tail rotor.
With its 61% stake, Eurocopter has engineering leadership, with responsibility for overall design, specifications, ground tests, flight testing, design and production of the drive trains, the avionics suite, electrical systems, overall integration, primary assembly line and certification.
At the time, concerns were raised regarding the potential for dual civilian/military use.
According to DHS is to receive its first EC120 in June 2006 for deployment on the Mexican border. In order to meet this schedule, three EC120s already are in production for the Department’s Customs and Border Protection. Follow-on aircraft will be delivered at the rate of one helicopter every 30 days. The helicopters will be produced at American Eurocopter’s new Columbus, MS facility, which supports programs like the upgrading of HH-65 Dolphins (“Dauphin” helicopter derivative) for the US Coast Guard.