June 03, 2011 by Beth Stevenson, SHEPARD GROUP
London - The US is buying 21 Mi-17V5 multipurpose helicopters from Russia, despite the purchase of the helicopters from state arms exporter Rosoboronexport being controversial in the US.
Under the $365 million contract, which was signed on 26 May, the helicopters will be supplied to Afghanistan forces by the US Army Forces Command, with the first Mil aircraft expected to be delivered in October.
On the same day it was also announced that a maintenance facility for the aircraft would be built in Afghanistan as a money-saving effort.
‘We have agreed that this [Mi-17] joint project with the US will encompass this kind of facility on the territory of Afghanistan because the transportation of helicopters to Europe for repairs would be too expensive,’ deputy director of the Russian Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation, Vyacheslav Dzirkaln, said.
The Mi-17 is an export version of the Mi-8 Hip, and was specifically designed for the Russian conflict with Afghanistan in the 1980s.
In 2006 sanctions were imposed on the Rosoboronexport after the US accused it of violating the nuclear non-proliferation regime by dealing with Iran, but this was lifted in May 2010.
As a result of the embargo, various private intermediary companies in the US established a profitable business acting as the principle providers of Mi-17s.
In October 2009, US senator Richard Shelby revealed in a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates that the US had spent $807.2 million on the purchase of Mi-17s for the armed forces of Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan.
The aircraft were acquired as a civil platform, and were eventually resold to the Pentagon following modification for military use. The acquisition came under scrutiny from Congress because of the trade ban with Russia, and because US platforms had not been considered.
Defence of the decision included that the Mi-17 type was familiar to these armed forces and was suitable for conditions in Afghanistan.
Under the terms of the contract maintenance, spare parts provision and ground support equipment will be provided. The helicopter is currently produced at two factories in Kazan and Ulan-Ude in Russia. The transport aircraft can carry 37 passengers, and features powerful turbo shaft engines.
Meanwhile Russian Helicopters announced in May that delivery of the first three Mi-171Sh to the Ministry of Defence of Peru was pending, following a contract signed with Rosoboronexport in 2010. The second batch of aircraft is expected to be delivered at the end of 2011.