New helicopters purchased in US

WASHINGTON - The United States plans to sell six Lakota military helicopters to Thailand worth an estimated $77 million (2.4 billion baht), Pentagon officials said Saturday (Thailand time).

The UH72 Lakota light utility helicopter is a military version of the Eurocopter. It is typically unarmed and used for logistics and support missions, including medical evacuation. (Photo by US Defence Department)

The Defence Security Cooperation Agency, which handles US arms sales abroad, notified Congress that the Thai government had made a request to purchase the UH-72A helicopters.

The Lakota aircraft are typically used by the US National Guard for emergency response missions and border security.

The authoritative website Military-Today.com said the UH-72A Lakota, named after a US Indian tribe, came into US military service in 2007. It is used mainly for logistics and support missions in non-combat environments, and can also perform medical evacuations and personnel recovery.

The chopper has a payload capacity of 1,790kg. It can also carry a maximum underslung load of 1,500kg.

The aircraft has a crew of two, and can carry up to eight troops. Alternatively, it can carry two stretchers and medical attendants.

The sale could clear the way for larger arms deals, as the United States seeks to shift its strategic focus to the Asia-Pacific region and as American defence firms look to take advantage of increased military spending among Asian countries.

"Thailand is a valued defence ally of the United States," said Pentagon spokeswoman Lt Col Catherine Wilkinson, confirming the planned sale.

The deal comes after former defence secretary Leon Panetta signed a joint "vision" statement in Thailand, with both countries vowing to renew longstanding military ties that date back to the 1950s.

Aerospace giant EADS North America was named as the main contractor for the helicopter deal.

"This proposed sale will contribute to Thailand's goal to upgrade and modernise its military forces with a new light utility helicopter capable of meeting requirements for rotary-wing transportation, while further enhancing greater interoperability between Thailand the US, and among other allies," the defence cooperation agency said in a statement.

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