Eighteen of the Army's most sophisticated combat helicopters are one step closer to becoming part of the Utah National Guard arsenal after ceremonies Saturday in West Jordan.

Utah Adjutant General John L. Matthews activated the 211th Aviation Group and its subordinate battalion at the National Guard facility adjacent to Salt Lake Airport No. 2 in West Jordan. He said the upcoming delivery of the AH-64A "Apache" helicopters signifies a vote of confidence from the Department of Defense and the Army.Matthews said the aviation group's 85 pilots and support members face an intense training program before the new helicopters are delivered, probably next September. There will also be significant increases in facilities and staffing at the armory and maintenance facilities.

Guard members working out of West Jordan previously flew and provided support for Vietnam War-vintage AH-1F "Cobra" attack helicopters. Those helicopters will be transferred to another National Guard unit, possibly in Colorado, said Col. Robert D. Mabey, group commander.

The anti-tank Apaches are armed with Hellfire laser-guided missiles, a 30 millimeter cannon and 2.75-inch rockets.

The first official step toward transition to the new helicopters took place Nov. 20 when the Attack Troop, 163rd Armored Cavalry Regiment of the Utah Army National Guard, was dissolved. The same soldiers are now members of the upgraded 211th Aviation Group.

Matthews said changes in both the balance of power in the European theater and U.S. military policy are shifting additional responsibility from active duty soldiers to reserve components. The Utah National Guard is only the second guard unit to be assigned the new helicopters, promoted by the military as being the most sophisticated combat helicopters in the world.

The new unit will bring 32 new full-time federal jobs to the National Guard with an annual payroll of about $900,000. About $2.5 million will be spent retraining the pilots and ground crew, a process that will take several months. The attack group and its subordinate battalion are authorized by the army to have 346 soldiers compared to 243 in the old attack troop.

The group will eventually receive $250 million worth of aircraft and another $200 million in equipment.

Utah pilots and crew members will begin training at Fort Rucker, Ala., in February, Mabey said.