Hinds dismay Czechs

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Three Mil Mi-35 Hind helicopters supplied by Russia to the Czech Republic in a debt repayment deal are considered defective by the new owner as they are suffering from faults and fitted with pre-owned equipment and systems.

Czech air force specialists are attempting to establish whether the faults can be rectified within an "extended guarantee" period. If not, the Mi-35s will probably be returned to Moscow. Such a move could lead to international arbitration, say officials at the Russian embassy in Prague.

Czech deputy defence minister Jan Vána says the defects area result of negligence, rather than deliberate. However, another deputy defence minister, Jan Dzvon¡k, says the problems with the helicopters could jeopardise a much bigger $300 million repayment - as part of which Russia is to supply three Antonov An-70 airlifters.

Meanwhile, cannons from the Czech air force's retired Sukhoi Su-22 Fitters could be fitted to the service's Aero Vodochody L-159 light-attack aircraft. The guns would replace the Czech-built 20mm ZVI Vsetín Plamen gun, the prototype of which was destroyed in an L-159 crash in late February. ZVI says it does not have any guns that could be used for further testing.

Czech defence minister Jaroslav Tvrdík says Plamen development could still reach a successful conclusion. Another option is to acquire a cannon from an overseas manufacturer. Plamen development started in 1998 and has so far cost around CKr200 million ($6.7 million).