Pentagon Buys Russian Helicopters to Use in Afghanistan

Monday, June 21, 2010
Mi-17 Helicopter in Farah province, Afghanistan (photo: Joseph A. Wilson, U.S. Army)

Instead of buying American to equip Afghanistan’s air force, the U.S. Department of Defense decided to purchase helicopters from Russia. Not surprisingly perhaps, this decision has not gone over well with members of Congress.

So far, the Pentagon has spent $648 million to buy or refurbish 31 Russian Mi-17 transport helicopters for the Afghan National Army Air Corps. Military officials eventually want to buy dozens more. But that will depend on whether the Defense Department can get lawmakers to approve funding for these additional helicopters.
Senators Richard Shelby (R-Alabama) and Christopher Dodd (D-Connecticut) are urging the Pentagon to reconsider its plans, claiming the helicopter program has resulted in “massive waste, cost overruns, schedule delays, safety concerns and major delivery problems.”
Brigadier General Michael Boera, the U.S. Air Force general in charge of rebuilding the Afghan air corps, says the real problem lawmakers have is with the fact the helicopters are made in Russia, not the USA. Boera adds that the military decided on the Mi-17 because it was specially made for Afghanistan’s mountainous terrain, and Afghan pilots have been trained to fly Russian-made helicopters, not American ones. To switch to aircraft built in the U.S. would lead to higher costs and delays in making the Afghan air force self-sufficient, he says.
-Noel Brinkerhoff


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