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Brazil boosts helicopter fleet to tackle Rio's drug lords

The increasing firepower available to Rio de Janeiro's drug lords over the last two years has spurred the local law enforcement agency to expand its helicopter fleet with the acquisition of a Bell Huey II.

In addition, the air support unit, which controls the six helicopters operated by the city's law enforcement agencies, has configured two of its Eurocopter AS 350BA/B2 Ecureuils into gunships.

The air support unit is frequently subjected to small arms fire while performing support work during counter-narcotics operations in the city's slums, forcing them to carry sniper teams to perform precision fire cover for ground units.

Even with the protection of Kevlar armour on the engine bay, side doors and cockpit area and a bungee-mounted light machine-gun, the Ecureuil's use in counter-narcotic operations is now deemed inadequate for the typical sorties now flown on an almost daily basis.

The government has allocated $4.5 million funding to acquire the gunship-configured Bell Huey II which will also be fitted with Kevlar armour and pintle-mounted light machine-guns.

The modification is being performed at BellAerospace Services in Ozark, Alabama, with delivery scheduled for next month. Sources say two more Huey IIs are expected to be acquired by early 2009, pending the release of funds.

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