GDF to acquire 4 new helicopters, other assets

The content originally appeared on: INews Guyana
A Bell helicopter

With the aim of bolstering the country’s defensive capacity, the Guyana Government has allocated a significant portion of the $1.146 trillion Budget 2024 towards building the technical capability and assets of the local security sector.

Some $42.2 billion has been allocated in Budget 2024 for the Guyana Defence Force (GDF).

Vice President Dr Bharrat disclosed on Thursday that efforts are already underway to procure four new helicopters that will not only be used by the GDF but also the Guyana Police Force.

“We’re in discussions with Bell for the purchase of four smaller helicopters which assist not just the army but the police in training, and also policing because they’ll be equipped with a whole range [of] technology et cetra…Things along those lines; it’s more defensive capacity… to better equip our security forces,” Jagdeo stated.

Back in October 2020, the US State Department had approved the sale of four helicopters and related equipment to Guyana to the tune of US$256 million.

The details of the sale were announced in a Department of Defense (DOD) statement. According to the particulars of the sale, Guyana will get four helicopters, including two Bell 412Epi and two Bell 429 helicopters, plus related equipment.

According to the DOD, colloquially known as the Pentagon, the US Congress received the required certification informing them of the possible sale of the helicopters on Saturday. The DOD went on to speak of the benefits of the deal to Guyana.

“This proposed sale will support the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve security of Guyana, which is expected to grow to be an important force for political stability and economic progress in South America. The sale will improve Guyana’s capability to meet current and future threats.”

“Guyana will use the enhanced capability to strengthen its homeland defence; conduct maritime surveillance, patrol, and interdiction; counter narcotic trafficking and transnational criminal organizations; deter regional threats; and support coalition partners overseas. Guyana will have no difficulty absorbing this equipment into its armed forces,” the DOD also said, adding that the sale will not alter the basic balance of military power in the region.

Only in December 2023, one of the GDF’s newest helicopters was damaged in a horrific crash that claimed the lives of five servicemen.

Brigadier (Ret’d) Gary Beaton; Lieutenant Colonel Michael Shahoud; Lieutenant Colonel Sean Welcome; Lieutenant Colonel Michael Charles, and Sergeant Jason Khan, were part of a seven-member crew on board the army’s Bell 412 helicopter when it lost signal near Guyana’s western borders on December 6, 2023. The chopper was found the following day in Region Seven forest with only two survivors.

The helicopter suffered significant damage, particularly in the fuselage, with only a few pieces remaining. It has been reported that the the black box from the chopper, which contains flight information, has been sent to the National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB) in Washington, United States, for the retrieval of data to aid the ongoing investigation in ascertaining what transpired.

On Thursday, VP Jagdeo told reporters that arrangements will have to be made to replace that chopper as well.

“Ultimately, I think you’d have to have other helicopters with capacity to carry large numbers of people. What model, I don’t know because that needs to come out of the assessment that is being done now… But what is being found now is that these same smaller helicopters [that government is going buy] have low operating costs and they can be used a lot to train more of our pilots too… The cost is a fraction of the larger ones… But that assessment is still being done on whether they will go back for the 412 or have a different model; not that there is anything wrong with the 412,” Jagdeo stated.

In fact, the Vice President went onto dismiss claims made that the 412-helicopter involved in the crash was a remodelled chopper. He noted that it was a new helicopter that was bought directly from the manufacturer.Meanwhile, in addition to building its air fleet, the Guyana Government also has a line of credit with India to acquire marine assets that will be used to enhance the policing of Guyana’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

Earlier this month, President Dr Irfaan Ali had said there were active plans to step up spending in the security sector, not only hardware but human resources.

This comes on the heels of last month’s heightened tension with neighbouring Venezuela, which is laying claims to more than two-thirds of Guyana’s landmass in the Essequibo and a portion of its EEZ where oil production activities are ongoing.

However, President Ali has made it clear that these efforts are merely aimed at bolstering the country’s defence capability and not for any acts of aggression.

President Ali and his Venezuelan counterpart, Nicolas Maduro, have agreed “not to threaten or use force against one another” during the historic face-to-face meeting in St Vincent and the Grenadines on December 14, 2023.