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El Salvador To Get Four Helicopter Gunships, Four For Transport

January 29, 1985 GMT

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (AP) _ A military observer said Tuesday that the United States is sending eight more military helicopters to El Salvador.

The observer said the addition of four UH-1H Huey transport helicopters would raise the number here to 41, four of which are assigned to evacuate wounded soldiers. He asked not to be identified for reasons of protocol.

Also to be sent are four Hughes 500 helicopters, a two-seater aircraft armed with a high-speed minigun, he said.

The observer said the gunships will join a similar one already in use and will be used mostly for ″repressive″ fire before landing helicopter-borne troops.

Increased air support in this Central American nation, torn by five years of civil war, has made it possible for the military to hopscotch over sabotaged roads and bridges, long a leftist guerrilla method of slowing down the army as well as weakening the economy.

In a recent military operation in the northeast corner of the country, guerrillas blew up the only highway bridge over the Torola River but most of the 4,000 troops and equipment had arrived by helicopter and could be removed the same way.

The left has said it is looking for more effective anti-aircraft weapons but has not been able to find suitable ones it can afford.

Recently El Salvador started using AC-47 gunships armed with .50-caliber machine guns. Use of only one of the slow-flying, propeller-driven planes has been authorized until American and Salvadoran authorities have a chance to evaluate their effectiveness.

Each of the three machine guns has been altered so it can fire 950 rounds a minute, about double the normal rate.

The planes, military versions of the old DC-3 passenger planes, can stay aloft for about six hours and got generally high marks when used to rescue a besieged military unit in San Vicente province earlier this month.

The observer told reporters that the planes, as equipped, are ″fairly unique″ but that something similar was used in Laos and Cambodia in the mid- 1970s.

It is part of the rapid modernization of the military which five years ago was out of shape, antiquated and out of touch with the realities of a guerrilla war.

Americans have taken a major role in military training in El Salvador, training thousands of troops in the United States and Honduras and training military instructors to take over the job.

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On Feb. 4 a national training center capable of handling 2,000 troops will open at La Union on El Salvador’s east coast. The observer said training will average about 15 weeks, nearly two weeks longer than U.S. troops are trained.

The center eventually will phase out a method under which departmental commanders were responsible for recruiting and training their own men, often with a wide variety of results.

″The desire is to train to a standard, to get a better quality trainee,″ the observer said.

Salvadoran defense forces now number about 45,000 and the observer said he did not envision a major increase because the Salvadoran economy cannot pay for it.Many of the expenses tied to a major growth, such as the payment of troops, cannot be covered by military aid, he said.