WASHINGTON — The government’s watchdog in Afghanistan feels the Pentagon made an “imprudent” decision to purchase 30 rotorcraft for an Afghan special unit, despite Pentagon officials having seen a draft report warning of major risks in doing so.
Earlier this week, Defense News reported on a draft version of a report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) that called for the Pentagon to freeze plans to purchase 30 Mi-17 helicopters, designed by Russian firm Rosoboronexport, in order to equip a special anti-narcotics/counterterrorism unit known as the Afghan Special Mission Wing (SMW).
“The Afghans lack the capacity — in both personnel numbers and expertise — to operate and maintain the existing and planned fleets,” SIGAR auditors warned in the draft report. “Without an effective support structure, US funded SMW aircraft could be left sitting on runways in Afghanistan, rather than supporting critical missions, resulting in waste of US funds.”
The final report, released today, still warns against the Pentagon purchasing the equipment. But in the time between when the draft was written and the final report released, DoD announced the purchase — something SIGAR auditors lament in their final report.
“SIGAR maintains that moving forward with the acquisition of these aircraft is highly imprudent until an agreement between the ministries is reached,” auditors wrote, noting that the draft was sent to DoD officials June 3. “SIGAR also notes that, prior to awarding the contract for the 30 Mi-17s on June 16, 2013, DOD received a draft of this report containing a recommendation to suspend plans to purchase new aircraft for the SMW.”
“Despite our recommendations, the Department awarded a $553,759,240 contract modification to Rosoboronexport, a Russian government agency, on June 16, 2013, for 30 Mi-17 helicopters, spare parts, test equipment, and engineering support services,” auditors continued. “We maintain that moving forward with the acquisition of these aircraft is imprudent.”
In addition to the inclusion of Pentagon comment and SIGAR’s response, the final report lowers the estimated cost of the program from $908 million to $771.8. That total includes the purchase of the Mi-17s, as well as the purchase of 18 PC-12s, which have already been purchased. The contract for the Swiss-made transport planes was announced on Oct. 16 with a price of $218 million.
As with the draft report, the final report warns that the SMW faces serious recruiting and training challenges.