The US Pushed Afghanistan To Swap Their Russian Helos For Black Hawks. That Was A Mistake

Military Tech

The U.S. Army’s Black Hawk helicopters are less capable for some missions conducted by Afghanistan’s Air Force than the Russian-made ones they’re replacing, according to the Pentagon’s inspector general.


It’s a setback six years after lawmakers started pushing for the U.S. to stop buying the Mi-17 sold by Rosoboronexport, Russia’s state-owned weapons exporter, in light of President Vladimir Putin’s interventions abroad. The Afghan military, which is working to develop its Air Force’s capabilities, has been flying the Russian-made helicopter since the 1980s.

The transition to Black Hawks made by Lockheed Martin’s Sikorsky Aircraft unit “presents several challenges that have yet to be fully addressed,” Pentagon Inspector General Glenn Fine wrote in his latest quarterly assessment of U.S. expenditures in Afghanistan, posted in May, the same month the first Black Hawk was flown in an Afghanistan operation.

“Black Hawks do not have the lift capability” of the Russian aircraft, Fine wrote. The helicopters also “are unable to accommodate some of the larger cargo items the Mi-17 can carry, and in general it takes almost two Black Hawks to carry the load of a single Mi-17,” Fine said. “Unlike the Mi-17, Black Hawks cannot fly at high elevations and, as such, cannot operate in remote regions of Afghanistan where Mi-17s operate.”

As the Mi-17 is phased out in favor of the Black Hawk, the challenges “will become more pronounced,” Fine wrote.

Related: The Army Just Spent Billions On Helicopters It Can Barely Even Fly»

Army Lt. Col. Kone Faulkner, a Pentagon spokesman, said in an email that the Defense Department determined that Black Hawks, which are designated UH-60s, could perform as much as 90 percent of the missions the Mi-17 fleet was performing.

Lawmakers started pushing the Pentagon in 2012 to replace the Mi-17, after it was disclosed that the helicopters were being used against civilians by President Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria. The Defense Department agreed in 2013 not to buy Mi-17s beyond the 86 already purchased.

In fiscal 2017, after heavy lobbying by lawmakers from Connecticut, where the Black Hawk is built, Congress appropriated $814 million to deploy 159 of them over time. The Mi-17 is being phased out in Afghanistan, from about 47 today to 12 by December 2022.

Faulkner said the Black Hawk “can fly at the required mission altitudes at which the Afghan Mi-17 missions are typically flown.” He said “in many cases the UH-60 is as, or more, capable than the Mi-17” and that one version “provides more firepower than the Mi-17 variant, which is limited to rockets only and is less maneuverable.”

Related: The Army’s Black Hawk Replacement is One Step Closer To Dropping You Off At Fort Bragg »

Aside from flying capabilities, Fine wrote that the Afghan Air Force performs 80 percent of maintenance on the Mi-17 but will have to depend on contractors “in the near- to mid-term” for the more complex Black Hawk.

That’s because the Mi-17’s maintenance tasks are “much more conducive to the educational level available in the general Afghan population,” Air Force officials in Afghanistan told Fine’s auditors, according to his report.

“Virtually all militaries that have operational aviation fleets are reliant on contractors for maintenance,” said Faulkner, the Pentagon spokesman. “The Afghan Air Force is no different, and as we are in the early stages of maintenance training, they will be more reliant” on contractors initially “but this reliance will diminish over time.”

Black Hawks have “significantly lower” operating costs than Mi-17s, and the changeover will “enable a shift from a Russian supply chain to a well-established and reliable U.S. supply chain,” Faulkner said.

———

©2018 Bloomberg News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

WATCH NEXT:

The Navy has fired five senior leaders so far in August – and the month isn't even over.

While the sea service is famous for instilling in officers that they are responsible for any wrongdoing by their sailors – whether they are aware of the infractions or not – the recent rash of firings is a lot, even for the Navy.

A Navy spokesman said there is no connection between any of the five officers relieved of command, adding that each relief is looked at separately.

Read More Show Less
Then-Vice Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville. (U.S. Army/Spc. Matthew J. Marcellus)

After months of focusing on modernization priorities, Army leadership plans to tackle persisting personnel issues in the coming years.

Acting Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said Tuesday at an event with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies that what people can to hear service leadership "talk a lot about ... our people. Investing in our people, so that they can reach their potential. ... We are a people organization."

Read More Show Less
(U.S. Army/Pfc. Hubert D. Delany III)

Two U.S. military service members were killed in Afghanistan on Wednesday, the Resolute Support mission announced in a press release.

Their identities are being withheld pending notification of next of kin, the command added.

A total of 16 U.S. troops have died in Afghanistan so far in 2019. Fourteen of those service members have died in combat including two service members killed in an apparent insider attack on July 29.

Two U.S. troops in Afghanistan have been killed in non-combat incidents and a sailor from the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln was declared dead after falling overboard while the ship was supporting operations in Afghanistan.

At least two defense contractors have also been killed in Afghanistan. One was a Navy veteran and the other had served in the Army.

Sylvester Stallone is back as John Rambo. Why? Because nothing is (ever) over with this guy.

Read More Show Less
Popular Mobilization Forces fighters wave flags in this June 2016 photo. (Wikimedia Commons/Tasnim News Agency)

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq's paramilitary groups on Wednesday blamed a series of recent blasts at their weapons depots and bases on the United States and Israel.

The statement from the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), the umbrella grouping of Iraq's mostly Shi'ite Muslim paramilitary groups, many of which are backed by Iran, said the United States had allowed four Israeli drones to enter the region accompanying U.S. forces and carry out missions on Iraqi territory.

Read More Show Less