US sending helicopters to Gulf for mine sweeps

Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger has ordered the Navy to send eight mine-sweeping helicopters to the Persian Gulf, Pentagon officials disclosed yesterday. The RH-53D helicopters, which are be flown to the Gulf area on transport planes from their base in Norfolk, Va., will operate off the helicopter carrier Guadalcanal, which is currently on maneuvers in the Indian Ocean.

The officials refused to say when the Guadalcanal and the huge helicopters would arrive in the Gulf. But one said it would take at least several days.

The decision by Secretary Weinberger to take the copters into the Gulf was prompted by the continuing refusal of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia to offer land bases for the helicopters.

Administration officials have refused to discuss much of the substance of US talks with the two countries. Both nations have apparently shied away from becoming too closely associated with the American military effort in the Gulf.

The helicopter deployment was not expected to delay the departure of a Navy-escorted convoy of oil tankers from Kuwait.

``The second convoy operation, at this point, is not being delayed to await these choppers,'' added another source. ``But we want more capability in the Gulf.''

The sources said the tanker Bridgeton, which struck a mine last Friday while under naval escort, would join another tanker, the Gas Prince, for a second convoy, sailing from Kuwait, no later than Friday and possibly by today.

One official, in discussing the arrangements, predicted the mine-sweeping copters would not be available for duty inside the Gulf until the first week of August, at the earliest.

In the meantime, this official continued, a team of Navy underwater-demolition specialists is continuing a hunt for mines in the section of the Gulf where the Bridgeton was struck.

Robert Sims, the Pentagon's chief spokesman, publicly acknowledged for the first time that additional mines had been found near the Iranian-controlled island of Farsi. But he refused to discuss any details of the effort to sweep the area.

Pentagon sources said Saudi Arabian and US forces had failed to detect any additional mines over the last 24 hours in the area around Farsi.

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