The Soviet Union is supplying Nicaragua's Sandinista regime for the first time with technicians and other personnel to assemble and flight-test new helicopters that Moscow has shipped to the Central American nation, according to the Pentagon.
In making the announcement last week, Pentagon spokesman Robert Sims said about 10 helicopters that have arrived at the Nicaraguan port of Corinto since April brought to about 25 the number of "extremely valuable" MI-8 aircraft now in Sandinista hands. In addition, Cuban and Nicaraguan pilots are believed to be flying about a dozen MI-24 helicopter gunships, which Sims called "flying tanks."
The Soviets, he said, have "presented a formidable military array" against the weapons available to U.S.-backed rebels fighting Sandinista troops in the countryside. Sims discussed Soviet assistance to Nicaragua one day after the House approved President Reagan's proposal to resume military aid to the rebels, known as contras.
He said no specific recommendations for weapons purchases by the contras have been advanced by the Pentagon, although the rebels are believed to need communications equipment and, to counter the Sandinistas' growing air power, surface-to-air missiles.
Sims said that Soviet shipments to Nicaragua so far in 1986 have already surpassed those of last year, with their weight reaching an estimated 9,500 tons--2,000 tons more than in 1985.