Permanent Link to ROC Taiwan gives BDF 2 helicopters

The Belize Defence Force (BDF) has acquired two Bell UH-1H “Huey” helicopters, gifted from the Republic of China/Taiwan, allowing the BDF to now provide air support and to more easily transfer patrols into Belize’s more remote border areas.

Taiwan’s Ambassador to Belize H.E. Benjamin Ho officially handed over the two choppers to Minister of National Security John Saldivar at BDF headquarters at Price Barracks in Ladyville on Wednesday morning.

Bell Huey helicopters were the workhorse of the U.S. Army during the Vietnam war; and Taiwan had acquired these refurbished helicopters from the U.S. Ambassador Ho explained that under Taiwan’s defense agreement with the U.S., any military material or equipment acquired from the U.S. may not be transferred to a third party without prior U.S. approval.

Ho said he had seen Belize’s need for the helicopters as the BDF has been sorely lacking air support since the British Army Training Support Unit Belize (BATSUB) pulled out of Belize in 2011, so he appealed to his government to seek means to assist the BDF to acquire a helicopter. The process took several years, but after the U.S. government granted its approval, the disassembled helicopters and an adequate supply of spare parts were shipped to Belize.

The BDF also began the process of training its pilots to fly the helicopters, since previously they had only been flying a fixed wing aircraft, the Britten-Norman Defender.
Two pilots and 15 mechanics and technicians of the Taiwanese Army arrived in Belize on April 5 to assemble the two helicopters and also to train the BDF ground crews in the disassembly and maintenance of the two Hueys.

They completed the assembly of the helicopters last Monday, April 18, and BDF commandant, Brigadier General David Jones was one of the first BDF officers to be taken up on a test flight.

Cost of operations has been another major stumbling block, since aside from the initial purchase price, each helicopter costs about $1,000,000 to operate and maintain per year. The large spinning rotor supports the entire weight of the helicopter, and so its moving parts suffer wear and tear and must be changed on a regular basis.

Jones said that the BDF now has enough spare parts to last two to three years. He added that while he recognized that spare parts in the future might cost more than the BDF’s annual budget, he expressed the hope that the BDF could get assistance from its international partners to keep the aircraft flying, since they are much needed, not only by the BDF but by the units of the armed forces of other friendly countries that come for jungle training.

Jones mentioned that the BDF has also acquired a third helicopter, which made an unauthorized landing in Belize and was abandoned by its owners. This is a different type, however, a Bell Jetranger; so while the BDF intends to press this helicopter into service as additional air power, it will require stocking a different set of spares with more cost.
The new helicopters will allow the BDF to step up its operations to a new level, Jones said, as they will now be able to rapidly deploy and retrieve patrols in the most remote areas of Belize. Having air-support for rapid medical evacuation is important, Jones emphasized, as Belize has some of the most venomous snakes in the world.

Saldivar noted that the helicopters will also serve a great humanitarian purpose during the hurricane season, since it will greatly speed up getting emergency aid to flood and hurricane victims in times of natural disasters.