BEIRUT — The Lebanese Air Force has refurbished an Agusta-Bell AB 212 helicopter as part of a proof of concept, and will now begin a five-year project to revive the fleet with five operational helicopters.
“The twin engine choppers have been out of service since 1990. We are bringing them back to service to perform [multiple] tasks, from military missions to firefighting missions and search and rescue,” Brig. Gen. Ziad Haykal, the commander of the Air Force, told Defense News.
Due to the similarity between the AB 212 and the Huey II, which is currently operational with the fleet, the Air Force can use spare parts and technical expertise gained from the latter helicopter for local refurbishment, the general added.
Indeed, local refurbishment will reduce the cost of the project by 60 percent because the service is not sending the helicopters back to the manufacturer.
“The expected operational life span of the helicopters is 20 years, and it is worth noting that we obtained technical references for the project from Leonardo company, the manufacturer of this type of choppers,” Haykal said. “We are anticipating to operate these twin-engined helicopters in the missions to help secure oil and gas installations above Lebanese waters, particularly security preservation of the exclusive economic zone, by air or by sea.”
The five helicopters are expected to be equipped with 70mm Hydra rockets, .50-caliber machine guns and 250-kilogram bombs, much like the Huey II during missions at the Nahr el-Bared refugee camp in 2007, a Lebanese official told Defense News on a condition of anonymity. Fatah al-Islam militant launched at attack on the Lebanese Army from the Palestinian refugee camp in North Lebanon in May 2007. The Army struck back with modified Huey helicopters that were able to deploy 250-kilogram bombs.
The Hydra rockets and their integration on the helos are part of American military aid to Lebanon, the official said.
The head of Lebanon’s military, Gen. Joseph Aoun, oversaw the refurbishment project, which was launched at Beirut Air Base.
Agnes Helou was a Middle East correspondent for Defense News. Her interests include missile defense, cybersecurity, the interoperability of weapons systems and strategic issues in the Middle East and Gulf region.