The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

December 7, 2013

Rough ride for U.S.-Russia copter deal

(Continued)

No Pentagon official was made available to speak on the record for this story. The department declined AP's request that it release unclassified portions of the 2010 study and other records supporting the decision to buy Mi-17s instead of Chinooks or other helicopters.

The armed Mi-17s being purchased for Afghanistan from Rosoboronexport will replace older and less capable Mi-17s the U.S. and other countries had purchased from brokers and contractors through the open market and then donated or loaned to the Afghans.

The fact that the Afghan forces had years of experience flying the Mi-17 figured prominently in the Pentagon's decision.

Carter and other U.S. defense official contended that adding the Boeing helicopter to the mix would unnecessarily burden the Afghans with having to learn how to operate and maintain an unfamiliar helicopter.

The 2010 study "specifically analyzed the opportunity for DOD to provide a US alternative to the Mi-17 for Afghanistan," according to the excerpts.

It outlined a transitional approach in which Chinooks being retired from the U.S. military's fleet would be available in late 2013 to be refurbished and then replace older Russian helicopters in the Afghan fleet, according to the excerpts. A combination of Mi-17s and renovated Chinooks, known in the Army's nomenclature as the CH-47D, could work as well.

Proceed with caution, the study advised. Shifting too quickly away from the Mi-17s already in use could undermine progress in training the Afghan air force, the excerpts said. But the study recommended a plan for converting the Afghan forces from a "pure" Mi-17 fleet to one that uses U.S. helicopters.

The Chinook option never materialized.

An extensive analysis of both helicopters concluded a refurbished Chinook would cost about 40 percent more overall to buy and maintain than the Russian helicopter, the senior defense official said.

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