Helicopter Deal Puts Russia-Laos Defense Relations in Focus

A closer look at a recent development in the context of bilateral security ties.

Helicopter Deal Puts Russia-Laos Defense Relations in Focus
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Last week, a Russian firm completed the delivery of repaired helicopters back to Laos. Though the interaction had been an ongoing part of the bilateral relationship, it once again put the spotlight on Russia-Laos military ties, which have been developing in recent years.

As I have noted before in these pages, Laos and Russia have long had a close defense relationship that includes several components such as military education, law enforcement cooperation, and the purchase of military equipment. Ties have been on the uptick in recent years, with Vladimir Putin’s Russia looking to deepen ties with Southeast Asian states and Laos’ leadership seeking to solidify ties with major powers and neighboring states.

As this has occurred, defense collaboration has factored in that dynamic as well, including in high-level visits. Both sides have reached various agreements recently to further that cooperation in recent years, including a contract on military and technical cooperation, additional Russian assistance with respect to helicopter repair, and several other military procurement deals. There have also been reports about other aspects of cooperation, such as the opening of a military facility (See: “Where are Russia-Laos Military Ties?”).

Last week, one aspect of that collaboration was in the spotlight with the delivery of helicopters that had long been in the works. Finally, on July 12, Russian Helicopters, which is part of the state-owned conglomerate Rostec, delivered four Mi-17 helicopters to the Lao People’s Liberation Army Air Force (LPLAAF).

Though it had been a long time in the making, the transfer, which took place at an air base in Vientiane, was significant in that it marked the first service contract between the Russian firm and the Lao defense ministry. The helicopters were examined by the deputy defense minister of Laos and the chief of general staff, and a LPLAAF air force crew performed a demonstration flight as well.

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In an indication of the shape of further collaboration, the company said that negotiations following the ceremony had included not just further cooperation on maintenance services of helicopters previously supplied, but also the supply of new helicopter equipment, which had been discussed previously as well between the two sides.

Unsurprisingly, few further specifics were provided about what was agreed in terms of next steps, as opposed to what was discussed. The company said it had prepared a proposal for repair works for one more batch of Mi-17 helicopters on request from Laos, which would advance following review and approval.