Pubdate: Thu, 29 Jun 2000
Source: Dallas Morning News (TX)
Copyright: 2000 The Dallas Morning News
Contact:  P.O. Box 655237, Dallas, Texas 75265
Fax: (972) 263-0456
Author: Catalina Camia, The Dallas Morning News


WASHINGTON - House and Senate negotiators agreed Wednesday to buy a mix of
helicopters from Fort Worth-based Bell Helicopter Textron Inc. and a
Connecticut company as the centerpiece of a plan to halt drug trafficking
from South America.

The deal calls for 42 refurbished Huey IIs, made by Bell Helicopter, and 18
Black Hawks from Sikorsky Aircraft, according to lawmakers involved in the
talks. The United States would spend $315 million for the aircraft, with the
Hueys split between the Colombia Army and its National Guard.

Overall, Congress would provide $1.3 billion to stop the flow of illegal
drugs in Colombia. Congress and the Clinton administration have fought over
funding for much of the year, stumbling over how much to spend and then on
what types of helicopters to use.

The Colombia deal is part of a $11.2 billion spending bill that includes
funds to pay for peacekeeping in Kosovo, Hurricane Floyd and other natural
disasters, and cleanup in New Mexico from the fires near Los Alamos.

Still unclear is whether the emergency spending package will include an
agreement reached earlier this week to lift a ban on food and drug sales to
Cuba. House and Senate appropriators were balking, but Speaker Dennis
Hastert, R-Ill., is pushing for it.

The $11.2 billion will be attached to a measure paying for military
construction in 2001 that Congress intends to send to President Clinton
before adjourning on Friday.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, said the mix of Huey and Black Hawk
helicopters "is the right thing for Colombia."

In March, the House approved a drug-fighting package that included about
$400 million for 30 Black Hawks. But the Senate passed a bill with funding
for 60 Huey IIs. The aircraft is an upgraded version of a U.S. military
helicopter used extensively during the Vietnam War.

Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, said costs were the main concern.

He said it costs about $1.8 million to convert a used Huey UH-1H into a Huey
II. The upgrade includes new rotors, transmissions and other parts that
military officials said are labor-intensive to produce.

Ms. Hutchison, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said there
was a concern it could take up to two years to provide the Black Hawks. She
said there were indications from the Pentagon that some of helicopters could
be made available immediately if they were taken out of U.S. service.
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