VILNIUS – Lithuania is planning to buy four Black Hawk military helicopters under a contract to be signed with the United States this week, the Defense Ministry said on Tuesday.
Lithuania will pay the US government 181 million euros (213 million US dollars) for the platform over the next five years. The US government is providing 30 million dollars (around 26 million euros) in financial support for the project.
The first shipment of the Black Hawks could be delivered to Lithuania in late 2024.
Lithuania unveiled plans to purchase Black Hawks a year ago. The country initially planned to buy six helicopters, but opted for four in the course of the negotiations. It will be able to acquire two more helicopters in the future.
"Lithuania is planned to sign a contract on acquisition of a new helicopter platform from the Government of the United States," the ministry said in a press release.
"The Lithuanian Armed Forces will buy four UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters with additional equipment, spares, and a training, repair and logistical support package," it said.
The new platform will replace the Lithuanian Armed Forces' ageing Soviet-made Mi-8T helicopters.
"The Soviet-made helicopter fleet is in its thirties and its airworthiness has come to the deadline, its operation is also difficult: expensive maintenance, prone to failures, risky repair because of complicated provision of spares from Russia," the ministry said.
Defense Minister Raimundas Karoblis called the acquisition "one of the most critical elements in the modernization and enhancement of the Lithuanian Armed Forces, and a significant qualitative leap in supplying the military with contemporary and capable weaponry".
"By dropping the last Soviet relic and progressing to a Western helicopter platform we are beginning a completely new phase for the Lithuanian Air Force and moving in step with US and other most advanced NATO allies' militaries," he said.
Lithuania's Chief of Defense Lieutenant General Valdemaras Rupsys said the new helicopters will allow the Lithuanian Armed Forces "to carry out a significantly more effective military training, render air support to the infantry, airlift small units, medical evacuation, and other tasks".
"We will also be able to complete domestic support tasks, such as search and rescue, emergency transportation of organs, firefighting, more effectively," he said.
The new platform is also expected to significantly improve interaction with strategic and regional partners, the ministry said, noting that the armed forces of 30 countries worldwide, including Poland and Latvia, have acquired the same manufacturer's platform.
This "will expand the opportunities to train and carry out operations together in more numerous groups of personnel, alongside partners that also operate Black Hawks," it said.
"Fast, maneuverable and efficient UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters will also enable the Lithuanian Armed Forces to respond to aid requests significantly more quickly and to assist with search and rescue tasks. Air Force helicopters on 24/7 standby are called in to rescue those in distress at sea, lost or missing on land, to transport donor organs for transplantation, or to extinguish fires," according to the press release.
The Defense Ministry gave no details as to where and when exactly the contract will be signed. The talks on the Black Hawks took place at a high political level.
The ministry's press release came after US President Donald Trump announced on Monday that he had fired Defense Secretary Mark Esper.