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Wikileaks show US embassy pushed for funds for AFM helicopter

The Lakota which the AFM had intended to order.

The Lakota which the AFM had intended to order.

A 2008 cable made public by Wikileaks over the past few days shows how the US Embassy in Malta pushed for funding to enable Malta to purchase a top-of-the-range twin-engined helicopter for offshore maritime patrol and rescue.

Malta had gone so far as to declare its intention to purchase a twin engined UH-72A (Lakota) light helicopter, becoming the first overseas customer of the helicopter, but the project was never realised.

Although the AFM has bought two new fixed wing aircraft, its helicopter patrols are still based on old Alouette helicopters donated by Muammar Gaddafi's Libya in the 1980s. They are single engined and only fly over water, close to shore, during daytime.

Offshore work is performed by an Italian Military Mission AB 212 helicopter which is also old.

In its cable, the US embassy in Malta said:

"The Armed Forces of Malta has an urgent requirement to acquire modern helicopters capable of safely operating over water at long distances from its shores for Counter-Terrorism, Counter-Narcotics, Border Control, and Maritime Law Enforcement missions.

"In 2004, a Senate delegation visiting Malta promised to provide $6.5M for this program. An initial earmark allocation in the FY05 INL budget of $2.976M was made with a promise that the balance would be allocated in the FY06 budget - a promise that Congress was unable to keep at that time.

"With the money already allocated, the Maltese have initiated an FMS case for the purchase of a new UH-72A from the U.S. Army. The cost for that aircraft with the necessary support is estimated at $10.6M. Now that ASPA (Armed  Serviceman's Protection Act) is no longer in effect, Post (the US embassy) believes it is in the U.S. interest to make good on the original promise by providing the $3.524M. If some or all of the funding should become available in FY08 or FY09 funds we would welcome that; we are also requesting the funds in our FY10 budget. Provision of this U.S. grant would leave the GoM (government of Malta) with a balance of approximately $4.1M to fund from its national budget - a much more manageable prospect for the small country."

The embassy also noted that before the introduction of Armed Serviceman's Protection Act (ASPA) in 2004, the embassy's security assistance program was working to replace Malta's ageing helicopter fleet using grant FMF funding. While researching this project, a U.S. company dealing in second hand-helicopters was contacted and was willing to provide three used aircraft for $6.5 million. These helicopters, while not brand new, would have been fully refurbished and capable of meeting Maltese mission requirements.

At the time that ASPA in was going into effect, Malta -- as a new accession country to full European Union membership -- was unable to conclude an Article 98 agreement with the U.S. This resulted in the suspension of the Maltese FMF program.

Furthermore, the Armed Forces of Malta  determined that the purchase of used aircraft with limited lifespans would not serve their best interests, nor would it be a wise use of the funding that the U.S. was donating for the purchase. 

The Agreement for the purchase of the new helicopter was concluded on 30 November 2006. In accordance with the agreement, and in line with their own research, the AFM decided to purchase a UH-72A from the U.S. Army. In April 2007 the initial price for the aircraft came in at $10.6M for a single aircraft with a full package of spares, technical support, training and support equipment.

The government of Malta reported that it had a problem in funding the balance of the cost price of the aircraft. Malta approached the German Government, (EADS-North America is the builder of the UH-72A) with a request for help. The German Government by its own laws could not support the purchase with funding, but has asked EADS to provide the technical support and training at very advantageous rates, which it agreed to do. However, this has had no real impact on the overall and the government continued to find itself in difficulty trying to fund the aircraft.

With the lifting of ASPA sanctions in January 2008, the embassy said it believed it to be in the U.S. interest to make good on its original promise to provide $6.5M to the Maltese government for the helicopter purchase.

"The provision of these aircraft to the AFM will have a long-lasting impact on U.S.-Maltese relations. It will allow the AFM to be more effective in applying the military-to-military training that the U.S. has provided in the past. In particular, it will allow them to provide better coverage within their assigned search and rescue region. This will directly translate to the ability to more effectively identify and interdict sea borne traffic involved in Counter-Trafficking as well as Counter-Terror and Counter-Proliferation operations and help Malta to address its number one security issue - Illegal Migration."

In other cables, the US embassy also reported that two patrol boats bought from the US by the AFM with US governemnt assistance, were being maintained in 'tip top' condition.

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