US to sell military helicopters to Thailand

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The United States (US) plans to sell six Lakota military helicopters to Thailand worth an estimated US$77 million (S$98 million), Pentagon officials said on Friday.

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

"Thailand is a valued defense ally of the US," said Pentagon spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Catherine Wilkinson, confirming the planned sale.

The deal comes after former defense secretary Leon Panetta signed a joint "vision" statement with his counterpart 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 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.