Andrzej Jeziorski/MUNICH

The Romanian Government and Bell Helicopter Textron have been given a 31 December, 1997 deadline to obtain financing for the country's AH-1RO Dracula programme.

The deadline for the deal, which gives Bell the right to buy 70% of Romanian helicopter manufacturer IAR Brasov, which will produce the Dracula for the Romanian armed forces, has now been extended to the end of this year.

IAR says that the US company's planned takeover, announced earlier this year, and the Romanian Government's declared intention to buy 96 AH-1ROs are linked - and both deals are now in danger.

The helicopter programme ran into trouble in August, when the Romanian Government cut 750 billion lei ($100 million) from the defence budget in an effort to meet spending and national debt targets agreed with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). If Romania exceeds its debt limit, the IMF will halt further credits.

IAR says that the industrial partners in the programme are trying to find a shorter-term financing package which will not require government involvement, but will allow IAR to go ahead with development.

The $2 billion Dracula programme is aimed at providing the Romanian armed forces with an attack helicopter derived from the US Bell AH-1W Supercobra. According to IAR, Elbit of Israel has been selected as prime subcontractor for the helicopter's weapons and avionics, although it is undecided which other companies will contribute to the package.

Elbit is already the avionics partner in Romania's 24-helicopter SOCAT programme to upgrade IAR-built Puma helicopters to battlefield helicopter standards, and this year formed an avionics joint venture with Bacau-based Aerostar. One SOCAT prototype has been completed so far, and the second is to be rolled out by mid-1998, says IAR.

The AH-1RO programme has been seen as a potential help to Romania's attempts to join NATO some time after 1999, by re-equipping with NATO standard arms and establishing industrial links with the USA.

Source: Flight International