An Afghan National Army (ANA) Mi-17 helicopter flies over the Sakhi Shrine in 2012 in Kabul. It would take time and cost money to train the Afghan military on American-made helicopters after years of training Kabul's military pilots on Russian-built aircraft, US Defense Department acquisition executive Frank Kendall said Wednesday. (Massoud Hossaini / Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — It would take time and cost money to train the Afghan military on American-made helicopters after years of training Kabul’s military pilots on Russian-built aircraft, a senior Pentagon official said Wednesday.
US Defense Department acquisition executive Frank Kendall was grilled by Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., about the US military’s purchasing of Mi-17 helicopters for Afghan forces. The Pentagon has long said the Russian machines are simpler for the Afghan military to fly and maintain when compared with more technologically advanced American-made aircraft.
The news has not sat well with lawmakers, particularity those who have helicopter manufacturers in their districts. Sikorsky is based in Blumenthal’s home state of Connecticut.
Russia’s recent invasion of the Crimean Peninsula and massing of forces on its border with Ukraine has renewed the debate over the use of the Mi-17. The US has sanctioned a number of Russian companies in response to Moscow’s recent military actions, however, it has not sanctioned Rosoboronexport, the company that sells the Mi-17 to the US military.
“I find it absolutely abhorrent and incomprehensible that this nation is providing taxpayer dollars to a Russian export agency that not only provides arms to [President Bashar al-]Assad in Syria, but also is in turn bolstering the Russian aggression in Ukraine,” Blumenthal said at the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.
The US is still in the process of purchasing the final 20 Mi-17s from Rosoboronexport that are part of the DoD contract, Kendall said.
“The helicopters, I think, are the right answer for the Afghan military,” Kendall told a small group of reporters after the hearing. “It would take us time and money and would be a major change for them to have to go to another helicopter. It could be done.” ■