September 10, 2010 / 1:18 AM / 9 years ago

U.S. to help Vietnam upgrade old Huey helicopters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States is set to help Vietnam upgrade iconic UH-1 “Huey” helicopters left behind at the end of their war, a senior U.S. Defense Department official said.

Defense Security Cooperation Agency Deputy Director Richard Genaille speaks during the Reuters Aerospace and Defense Summit 2010 in Washington, September 9, 2010. REUTERS/Hyungwon Kang

The United States provided Vietnam $1.3 million in fiscal 2010 to finance programs aimed at cementing security ties, up from $500,000 the year before, the agency’s No. 2 official, Richard Genaille, said.

The money, officially known as foreign military financing, is to be used primarily for English-language training of security forces “and to upgrade their UH-1 helicopter fleet to do humanitarian assistance and search and rescue operations,” he said.

Genaille said there was no other U.S. security assistance program in the pipeline for Vietnam.

“I think the relationship and where it goes kind of depends on how what we have started with goes,” the deputy head of the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) told the Reuters Aerospace and Defense Summit in Washington on Thursday.

The Textron (TXT.N) Bell UH-1 Huey “gunship” — equipped with machine guns, rockets and grenade launchers — became a symbol of U.S. combat forces in Vietnam. They appear in many popular films about the war, including “Platoon”, “Apocalypse Now” and “Born on the Fourth of July”.

At its peak in March 1970, the U.S. military operated more than 3,900 helicopters in the war, two-thirds of them Hueys, according to the helicopter history web site helis.com.

Relations between Vietnam and the United States have come a long way since normalization of ties in 1995, 20 years after the Vietnam war.

A next step could involve providing maritime patrol aircraft or a coastal radar system, Navy Vice Admiral Jeffrey Wieringa, who just retired as head of the DSCA, told Reuters in December.

On the other hand, there was “not much cooking” with Libya, another ex-U.S. foe that Wieringa mentioned at the time as another possible recipient of non-lethal U.S. security assistance, Genaille said.

Reporting by Jim Wolf; editing by Carol Bishopric

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