The U.S. Department of Defense and Russian defense firm Rosoboronexport have inked a contract for 30 Mi-17V5 helicopters for the Afghan Army, with an option for a further 12 helicopters, according to a report issued during the Paris Air Show by Russian state news agency RIA Novosti.
According to the report, the U.S. Army signed the contract on June 16 in Paris. Buying Russian defense equipment has been controversial, especially considering Russia’s ongoing support for Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria. However, Afghan forces have been a long-time user of Mi-17s and the U.S. Army’s Non-Standard Rotary Wing Aircraft (NSRWA) project management office (established in 2010) has a history of supporting foreign aircraft such as these that are used by friendly armed forces in countries including Iraq and Afghanistan. It is currently crucial that the Afghan military own and operate their own aircraft in support of their own forces as part of the transition plan, which will allow ISAF forces to withdraw by 2015.
A similar contract was signed in 2011 for 21 Mi-17V5s. According to U.S. Army representatives, buying direct from Rosboronexport rather than through third-party brokers is more cost effective and a better guarantee of continual supply. The Afghan National Army Air Corps, the Afghan Ministry of Interior Air Interdiction Unit and the Iraqi Air Force all operate Mi-17s. The U.S. Army also has the facility to train Mi-17 pilots at Fort Rucker, Ala.