The U.S. Coast Guard has exercised a $78.5 million contract option to purchase the service's 16th and 17th HC-144A Ocean Sentry Maritime Patrol Aircraft from prime contractor EADS North America. The HC-144A is based on the Airbus Military CN235 tactical airlifter. More than 250 CN235 aircraft are currently being operated by 27 countries. The option is part of a contract awarded to EADS North America in August 2010 for three aircraft, plus options for up to six additional aircraft. "The HC-144A is central to the Coast Guard's ability to execute its increasingly demanding mission, and we're proud to continue to deliver this critical capability on time and on cost," said Sean O'Keefe, EADS North America Chairman and CEO. Under this contract, EADS North America has already delivered two HC-144As, the 12th and 13th for the service -- both delivered on budget and ahead of schedule. The 14th aircraft is due for delivery by July. The Coast Guard exercised the first option on the contract for the 15th HC-144A in August 2011, with delivery expected in 2013. The 16th and 17th aircraft will be delivered in 2014. The remaining options left on the contract, for up to three additional aircraft, can be exercised sometime in the next two years. Coast Guard plans call for acquiring a total of 36 HC-144As. With the ability to remain airborne for more than ten hours, the Ocean Sentry is performing a wide range of missions for the Coast Guard, including maritime patrol, drug and migrant interdiction, disaster response, and search and rescue. The HC-144A achieved initial operational capability with the Coast Guard in 2008, and today is fully operational from Coast Guard air stations in Mobile, Ala., and Miami, Fla.