MOSCOW — The next batch of three Mi-17V-5 military transport helicopters built in Russia under a contract with the U.S. (DOD) are expected to be delivered to Afghanistan this month.
The deal for Mi-17s, aimed at increasing the capability of the Afghan national security forces, was controversial in the U.S. since the state-owned manufacturer that makes the aircraft, Rosoboronexport, also was selling weapons to Syria. Recent sanctions against Russia after its takeover of Crimea have only increased the fervor of U.S. lawmakers in calling for a halt to business with Rosoboronexport.
Still, Russia will complete the supply of 30 Mi-17V-5 helicopter gunships for Afghanistan’s army under a contract with the U.S. before the end of next October, says Alexander Fomin, the director of the Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation. "Fifteen choppers have already been delivered, he says.
The total contract value to deliver 63 helicopters and associated equipment is worth around $ 1.2 billion. The Mi-17V-5 helicopters are built by Kazan Helicopters of theHolding Company. Seventeen U.S.-manufactured components are integrated into the Russian onboard equipment for Afghanistan.
The Mi-17V-5 helicopters supplied are adapted for integration with airborne weapons, according to a defense industry official. "In compliance with the concept approved by the U.S. party, the helicopter performs transportation functions and carries onboard weapons like packages of unguided missiles," the official says.
Before the direct contract with Rosoboronexport, additional equipment was mounted on new helicopters at the aircraft repair facility in the United Arab Emirates. But under the Mi-17V-5 delivery contract, all the work is done at Kazan Helicopters.
"Thanks to this, for the first time the Americans have acquired Mi-17V-5 helicopters that need no optimization and meet specific requirements of the region where they will be used," a defense ministry official says.
The contract with the U.S. Defense Department was one of the most complex deals for the company because of conflicts with U.S. law, according to Anatoly Isaikin, Rosoboronexport director-general. "We had never worked under such conditions," he says. "Now prospects arise for us to supply other types of military hardware to the Afghan army based on the same scheme."
All of the helos assembled at Kazan Helicopters are flown to Kabul on an An-124 Ruslan transport aircraft of the Volga-Dnepr airline. In a single flight, the An-124 delivers three helicopters placed in the cargo bay with detached screw blades.
Forty-eight Mi-17V-5 helicopters have now been delivered and are operating in Afghanistan. "All through the period of using the Russian equipment since 2011, the Americans have not lodged [with] us any serious claims over the quality of our rotorcraft," adds a Russian defense industry representative.
"The operability of the delivered Russian helicopters exceeds the required level of 80-90 percent. This figure meets all of the applied requirements," the industry official added.
The average yearly flight time of one Mi-17V-5 helicopter in Afghanistan is more than 200 hr., the industry official says. The Mi-17V-5 helicopter overhaul period is 2,000 hr. or eight years. The Russians are seeking to increase the helicopter’s designed service life; currently, the military transport helicopter’s service life is 35 years, the official says.
Led primarily by lawmakers who represent the states where helicopter manufacturers are based, the Pentagon has backed the contract, despite the political situation in Crimea.
"The original intent of the contract was to ... help deliver to the Afghan National Security Forces a helicopter that is well-suited to the missions they need to fly and will need to continue to fly post-2014," Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby told reporters in March.
But opposition to the deal remains on Capitol Hill, where the House Appropriations Committee approved an amendment that would strengthen the ban on U.S. weapons contracts with Rosoboronexport by forcing the defense secretary to certify that the company is no longer delivering weapons to Syria and that Russia is not destabilizing Ukraine before obtaining a waiver to contract with Rosoboronexport.
As the U.S. tries to dissuade other countries from conducting business with Russia, "we need to set the example," Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), said in discussing the amendment. "If we want other countries to do something, we have to lead the way."