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Army to conduct test flights with grounded Apache fleet

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- The R.O.C. Army is ready to conduct test flights on 12 AH-64E Apache attack helicopters it bought from the United States, more than a month after grounding the aircraft following a failure in the same model reported by the U.S. Army, a source in the military said yesterday.

The source told the Central News Agency that the Army has received new main transmission boxes from the U.S. and has begun replacing them.

The Army Aviation Special Forces pilots are scheduled to conduct test flights of these helicopters with newly replaced transmission boxes as part of a full-scale check to ensure full operational safety, according to the source who asked not to be named.

The source would not give an exact date on when the Army will lift the grounding order for its Apache attack helicopter fleet, but did say that the Army will not lift the grounding of the 12 AH-64E Apaches unless the test flights have proven the aircraft are ready to perform their duties. No problems have been found in the helicopters already in Taiwan.

The Army previously said it would lift the grounding order in mid February.

Though the helicopters have been grounded, ground and simulation training have continued, the source added.

Taiwan received its first batch of six Apache helicopters last November, followed by a second batch of another six in early January.

The 12 aircraft are part of an order of 30 choppers that Taiwan bought for NT$59.31 billion (US$2.01 billion) under a deal announced in 2008 by then-U.S. President George W. Bush.

The total sum also includes logistics, training and construction of a barracks area, according to the Defense Ministry.

The aircraft are expected to greatly improve the mobility and firepower of Taiwan's military, according to the ministry.

The rest of the 18 choppers are scheduled to be delivered to Taiwan in three batches in March, May and July.

The Apache model E is the latest in the Apache attack helicopter series. The U.S. and Taiwan are the only two countries that use the latest Apache helicopter model.

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