The Pentagon is directing the U.S. Army to create a new program office to oversee the management of non-standard rotary-wing aircraft, including Russian-made Mi-17 helicopters, according to an Army official.
In a recent acquisition decision memorandum, Pentagon acquisition executive Ashton Carter calls for the establishment of the new office, according to Army and industry sources.
"We're in the process of standing that office up," said Rusty Weiger, deputy program executive officer for aviation, in a Feb. 4 interview.
The office is not yet staffed, he added.
The Pentagon has bought Mi-17 helicopters for foreign security forces in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as for domestic use. According to an industry source, the helicopters are selected because they can handle the high altitudes and difficult flying conditions in Afghanistan. Also, Afghans are familiar with the platform and the Russian-made helicopters are supposed to be less expensive than U.S. aircraft.
However, the contracting process behind these buys has been uncoordinated to date. Several different organizations across the Defense Department and the State Department have been involved. Because helicopters have not been delivered on time and the U.S. government has paid considerably more than the base price for them, Congress has begun to scrutinize the purchases, addressing the issue in the 2010 defense appropriations bill.
The Pentagon is trying to consolidate procurement activities and provide greater oversight of them by creating the new program office within PEO aviation, said an industry source. According to Weiger, the office will oversee more than just Mi-17s.
"The [acquisition decision memorandum] is for non-standard rotary-wing aircraft, which Mi-17 is one of," said Weiger. "There are a few other aircraft that primarily foreign customers have that aren't a Chinook, an Apache or a Black Hawk that this program office will also manage, to make sure that we stay in synch with our international partners and that they have program management back here to help make sure things don't fall through."
The Army is not responsible for funding the office, according to Weiger.
Some resources will be provided through supplemental funding for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, but foreign customers will primarily foot the bill, he said.
"Some of it will be [overseas contingency operations funding], as we try to help get Iraq and Afghanistan up to the capability so we can leave," he said. But once the U.S. has stood up those security forces, the office will be entirely customer-funded, he added.
"So whoever has those aircraft that wants us to provide them spare parts or support will have to fund it - it is not a U.S. government-funded office," he said.
The office's shelf life may extend beyond the length of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"As long as there are international customers that the State Department and others want us to support, we will continue to do that," said Weiger.