Kazakhstan to buy six more U.S. helicopters to defend Caspian interests

November 01. Central Asia Newswire

By Hal Foster

Kazakhstan to buy six more U.S. helicopters to defend Caspian interestsKazakhstan’s military will be buying six retrofitted U.S. Huey helicopters for its Caspian Sea defense needs, giving it eight Hueys altogether for that effort, Central Asia Newswire (CAN) has learned.

The Hueys are part of Kazakhstan’s effort to build a naval and air presence in the Caspian, where the country is investing heavily in oil and gas development.

It has said publicly that the main threat is terrorists, but military analysts in other countries say Kazakhstan is concerned about Iran.

The analysts point out that Iranian lawmakers have made claims on Kazakhstan’s area of the Caspian Sea, that Iran has a sizable military and that it has engaged in aggressive military behavior in the Caspian at times.

Kazakhstan contracted with US Helicopter of Orlando, Florida, in 2007 for the first two Hueys. The work included adding a more powerful engine, digital navigation and communication equipment and a new tailboom.

“The Huey II upgrade yields a significant performance increase” and extends the life of an aircraft by 20 years, US Helicopter said at the time it obtained the contract.

The company is part of Bell Helicopter, which has been making Hueys since the 1950s.

When it contracted for the work on the two Hueys in 2007, Kazakhstan took out an option with US Helicopter to retrofit six more Hueys. It apparently decided to exercise that option.

Kazakhstan inherited remnants of the Soviet military when it became independent in 1991. It used the remnants as a foundation for building its army and air force.

In 2003 it decided to create a navy.

The defense ministry said Kazakhstan needed a navy to protect its growing petroleum-development infrastructure in the Caspian, where the giant Kashagan oil field is scheduled to begin commercial production in 2013.

The ministry said the navy’s main missions in addition to protecting infrastructure would be combating terrorism, piracy, smuggling and drug trafficking.

Other tasks, it said, would be to conduct search and rescue operations and help protect the environment.

To achieve its goals, Kazakhstan is building patrol boats for the northern Caspian, where the seabed is shallow, and buying larger corvettes for deeper waters.

It will build three patrol boats with help from Russian, South Korean or Dutch companies at its Zenit shipyard in Uralsk, according to the commander in chief of the navy, Captain Zhandarbek Zhanzakov.

It has been negotiating this year with the French-South Korean consortium STX about obtaining three corvettes from overseas, Zhanzakov said.

The corvettes’ firepower is far beyond what’s needed to prevent terrorist attacks, according to a recent International Relations and Security Network analysis.

“You don’t need a corvette to protect an oil rig,” the analysis quoted an unnamed defense contractor as saying.

“Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan have good relations,” said the contractor, who asked that his name not be used. Kazakhstan also has good relations with Russia, the country with the largest Caspian navy.

“It is Iran that everyone is worried about,” the contractor said.

Iran’s navy has given its Caspian neighbors reason to be concerned.

In 2001 it stopped a BP Amoco oil research vessel that it contended was in Iranian waters, not in the territorial waters of Azerbaijan where it was supposed to be.

This year it introduced its largest naval ship ever in the Caspian – a Jamaran-class destroyer.

Donald Rumsfeld, the secretary of defense under President George W. Bush, stopped in Astana in 2004 for talks with Defense Minister Mukhtar Altynbayev that included Caspian defense.

Part of the discussions dealt with what forces and equipment Kazakhstan needed to protect its Caspian waters.

It is “important to this country and to the world that the security be assured in that area,” Rumsfeld said after the talks.

In April 2002, Kazem Jalali, a member of Iran’s lower house of Parliament, argued that Iran was entitled to half the Caspian. The reason, he said, is that it had signed treaties with the Soviet Union in 1921 and 1940 declaring the two sides equal Caspian partners.

The next day, a Kazakhstan television network broadcast a report that “Iran has officially demanded part of the oilfields which are considered to belong to Kazakhstan,” according to the British Broadcasting Corporation’s monitoring service.

The five Caspian nations have yet to conclude a treaty designating which parts of the sea each is entitled to.