Peru is to buy 24 MI-171 helicopters from Russia to use to battle drug traffickers and a splinter group of Shining Path rebels in the Amazon jungle region.
The agreement was reached by Defense Minister Pedro Cateriano and Russian Federation officials. The government said that the first shipment of helicopters is to arrive in the second half of 2014 and the remainder in 2015.
The contract for the 24 helicopters is worth about $400 million, according to daily El Comercio. In addition to the helicopters, the contract also includes the purchase of a flight simulator for training pilots, and a regional maintenance hub operated by the Russian aviation company, to be built by 2016 . The government says that Peruvian helicopter pilots are currently trained abroad due to the lack of facilities in the Andean nation.
The helicopters are to be used in the Apurimac, Ene and Mantaro river valleys, known as the VRAEM. The hard-to-reach area is a mountainous region in south-central Peru that straddles the Junin, Ayacucho, Huancavelica and Cusco regions.
The area is Peru’s top producer of coca leaves, used to make cocaine. It is also home to remnants of the Shining Path rebels, who are believed to be heavily involved in drug trafficking. Peru is the world’s biggest producer of cocaine, ahead of Colombia and Bolivia.
President Ollanta Humala’s strategy for rooting out the rebels involves increasing the military’s presence in the area through the construction of several new counter-terrorism bases. In addition, the government is also trying to establish a state presence through infrastructure of roads and telecommunications, promoting alternative crops, and for the first time eradicating coca bushes in the VRAEM. Eradication has until now been mostly in the valleys further north.
The government also announced recently that it signed a contract with Italian firm Alenia Aermacchi to purchase two C-27J Spartan transportation airplanes. Each one of those planes is worth $122 million.