The first of a fleet of Apache helicopters ordered by Taiwan from the United States are due to be delivered in October as the island modernises its military despite warming ties with China, local media reported Sunday.

The $6.5 billion arms deal, including a fleet of 30 Apache Longbow helicopters, was announced in 2008, drawing the ire of Beijing.

The first six Apache AH-64Es, the latest variant of one of the world’s most powerful attack helicopters, will join the Taiwan army in October, the United Daily News said.

The Taiwanese army will become the first force outside the US to introduce the variant, it said.

Taiwan’s defence ministry declined to comment on the report.

Ties between Taiwan and its former rival China have improved markedly since Ma Ying-jeou of the China-friendly Kuomintang party became president in 2008 on a platform of ramping up trade and tourism links. Ma was re-elected in January for a second and last four-year term.

Despite the warmer relations, China still claims sovereignty over Taiwan and has vowed to get it back — by force if necessary — even though the island has ruled itself for more than 60 years.