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BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany's top military official has approved plans to buy 45 to 60 new heavy-lift helicopters in a competition valued at nearly 4 billion euros that will be decided between the two largest U.S. weapons makers, a source familiar with the decision said.

General Volker Wieker signed a document that kicks off the long-awaited competition between Lockheed Martin Corp's CH-53K helicopter and Boeing Co's CH-47, but stressed that no decision had been made on a preferred helicopter model, the source told Reuters on Friday.

The defence ministry expects to issue a request for information in the second half of 2018 after completing a fleet capability study, with a contract award seen in mid-2020.

(Reporting By Andrea Shalal)

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Reuters