Army takes delivery of Russian Mi-17V5 helicopters ordered in 2008

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The Royal Thai Army last month finally took delivery of three Russian-made helicopters more than two years after announcing their purchase.

Five disassembled Mi-17V5 choppers arrived at the U-Tapao Pattaya International Airport Feb. 12, destined for the Army Aviation Center in Lopburi after 10 days of re-assembly and inspection.

The Army first announced the purchase of the helicopters in October 2008, using nearly 1 billion baht saved when the military dropped plans to refurbish 46 grounded UH-1H Huey helicopters. The 40-year-old copters donated by the United States during the Vietnam War were deemed to old to repair.

It took two years, but the Russian built Mi-17V5 helicopters finally arrived at U-Tapao Pattaya International Airport Feb. 12. It took two years, but the Russian built Mi-17V5 helicopters finally arrived at U-Tapao Pattaya International Airport Feb. 12.

In spending nearly 300 million baht per helicopter, the Army ended up paying about double what it might have spent when first offered the helicopters in 2006. But the Army passed up the 168 million baht per copter offer as Thailand had traditionally only purchased from the U.S.

That changed in early 2008 when the Army bought 36 Russian Igla surface-to-air missiles.

The Army spent 950 million baht on the copters and set aside 50 million for pilot training and ground equipment.

Considerably larger than the American Black Hawk helicopters the Army originally wanted, the less-expensive Mi-17s will be used primarily for transportation. They can carry 36 troops and a light vehicle at the same time. Black Hawks can carry only 13 troops.

Army officials noted that the helicopters could also be fitted with Mag-58 and M-60 machine guns should they need to be put into combat service.

Even though the purchase took more than two years, the army says it wants three more Mi-17s. It simply needs to find another billion baht, perhaps by cannibalizing another repair budget, officials said.