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The US Pushed Afghanistan To Swap Their Russian Helos For Black Hawks. That Was A Mistake
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.
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.”
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.
Gold Star family members might finally see an end to the so-called "Widows Tax" thanks to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2020.
The top Pentagon watchdog has announced it would be investigating all deaths of recruits during initial military training over the past five years, the agency said in a statement last week.
In a Dec. 4 memo, the DoD Inspector General said it was changing the scope of an investigation it had opened on Nov. 18 that was titled Evaluation of Medical Resources and Guidance to Trainers at Recruit Training Centers in the DoD. Its new title, the IG said, would be Evaluation of Medical Protocols and Deaths of Recruits in the DoD.
While its original objective of looking into the medical resources available to recruits would remain the same, the IG said it would now also review all deaths of recruits at military basic training facilities between Jan. 1, 2015 and Dec. 31, 2019.
The move comes in the wake of several deaths at basic training facilities over the past year. In April, the Navy announced a safety review after two prospective sailors died at its recruit training facility in Great Lakes, Illinois. Seaman Recruit Kelsey Nobles died after a fitness test that month; Seaman Recruit Kierra Evans also died after the run portion of the fitness test.
In September, an 18-year-old soldier died following a "medical emergency" before a training drill at Fort Jackson, S.C.
Meanwhile, the Marine Corps has disciplined more than 20 Marines over misconduct at its San Diego boot camp since 2017, according to The Washington Post. The action came in the wake of a scandal involving the death of a 20-year-old Muslim recruit named Raheel Siddiqui, who fell 40 feet to his death at the Parris Island training facility, where he and other Muslims were targeted for abuse by their drill instructor (the instructor was later sentenced to 10 years in prison at court-martial).
According to the IG, Pentagon investigators will visit all DoD recruit training facilities and interview personnel from each service's education and training commands. They will also speak with personnel at military medical facilities, the Defense Health Agency, and those assigned at the Military Entrance Processing Command, which does the initial intake for civilians going into military service.
The number of substantiated allegations of sexual misconduct against senior Army officials increased this year, according to an Army Inspector General report recently presented to service leaders and obtained by Task & Purpose.
The document, which lays out broad details of IG investigations undertaken in fiscal year 2019, looks at investigations specific to senior Army officials, which includes "promotable colonels, general officers and senior executives," according to Army spokesman Lt. Col. Emanuel Ortiz.
Marine Corps senior leaders have begun to express cautious openness to the idea of making the service's boot camps fully co-ed. But if Congress has its way, the service may be pushed toward full integration sooner than expected.
The final conference version of the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act includes a provision that would require the service to integrate both its East Coast and West Coast entry-level training facilities within the next eight years.
An Indiana National Guard soldier died Saturday at the Muscatatuck Urban Training Center, located about 75 miles southeast of Indianapolis.
Cpl. Larry Litton Jr., of Martinsville, was 30 years old and an assistant squad leader with the 384th Military Police Company when he was found unresponsive at the facility.