The Ministry of Defense on Sunday confirmed that it has received delivery of two Z-9 military helicopters from China, with 10 more to be delivered next month to complete a multimillion dollar loan deal signed between the two countries in August 2011.
Minister of Defense Tea Banh said the Royal Cambodian Air Force (RCAF) had already flown the two new helicopters, which could be seen near the Phnom Penh airbase Friday morning, shortly before the return of opposition leader Sam Rainsy after four years abroad.
“We have to test the new helicopters even though they are new. We tested them on Friday to check the engines and to ensure the technology that the helicopters are fitted with is working correctly,” he said, adding that the Chinese aircraft are fitted with night-vision technology to enable pilots to fly at night.
The Z-9 is a multiuse helicopter built under license by China’s Harbin Aircraft Manufacturing Corporation and modeled on the French-made Dauphin helicopter. They can be fitted with high-tech assault weaponry, but the RCAF has said it intends to use the helicopters for humanitarian purposes.
“They can and will be used for many purposes such as carrying out rescue operations and transporting different materials and so on,” General Banh said.
The new fleet of Z-9s, which will replace an aging fleet of Russian-made Mi-8 and Mi-17 helicopters, were paid for by a $195.5-million Chinese loan, signed in 2011 by Prime Minister Hun Sen and then-Chinese Standing Committee member Zhou Yongkang.
The helicopter purchase is one of a growing number of loans, trade deals and grants that Cambodia has signed with China over the past few years, making Beijing Cambodia’s single biggest patron and boosting China’s political and economic leverage in the country.