PARIS AIR SHOW: Vietnam navy in talks to buy Eurocopter helicopters

Singapore
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Eurocopter could be on the verge of a major military deal with Vietnam after confirming that it is in negotiations to sell helicopters to the Southeast Asian country's navy.

The service is in talks to buy several EC225 and EC155 helicopters and Norbert Ducrot, Eurocopter's senior vice-president for sales and customer relations in Asia Pacific, says that a deal could be made before end-2009.

"We are having good discussions with Vietnam on this issue," says Ducrot. "Eurocopter has an excellent relationship with Vietnam and the discussions with the navy are going well. We are hopeful of a breakthrough this year."

The country's navy primarily uses its helicopters for search and rescue and transport missions, according to industry sources. Older Eurocopter helicopters such as the SA365 N2 Dauphin, Eurocopter AS350 B3 Ecureuil, SA330J Puma and AS332 L2 Super Puma are already in service with the country's air force.

Vietnam opened its economy in the early 1990s and registered one of the highest annual gross domestic product growth rates in Asia for several years until last year's global economic crisis. Investment from US and European companies has helped it to wean itself off a dependence on the former Soviet Union and Russia, and that could soon be the case in the military sector as well.

Since the end of the Vietnam War in the 1970s, the country has mostly bought Soviet-bloc and Russian arms. The air force, for instance, has ordered 24 Sukhoi SU-30MK2s and received 12 of them. It seeks more fighters and officials from Lockheed and Boeing say that they have received positive signals about their prospects in what could potentially be a huge market.