November 14, 2013
Credit: Russian Helicopters
The Pentagon no longer will buy Russian helicopters for the Afghan Air Force from Rosoboronexport, a state-owned arms exporter that also sells weapons to the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, U.S. defense officials and a leading Senate opponent of such deals said on Wednesday.
The switch in Pentagon policy appears to end, at least for now, its plans to buy an additional 15 Russian Mi-17 helicopters for $345 million, sources familiar with the matter said.
“I applaud the Defense Department’s decision to finally cancel its plan to buy additional helicopters from Rosoboronexport,” Senator John Cornyn, Texas Republican, said in a statement.
“Doing business with the supplier of these helicopters has been a morally bankrupt policy, and as a nation, we should no longer be subsidizing Assad’s war crimes,” Cornyn said.
Defense Department spokeswoman Maureen Schumann said in an email: “After initially requesting funds from Congress in the FY14 (2014 fiscal year) budget to provide additional enhancements for the Afghan National Security Forces, the department has re-evaluated requirements in consultation with Congress.”
“We currently do not have plans to purchase additional Mi17s from Rosoboronexport beyond those in the Afghan Program of Record,” she said.
The Pentagon had planned to purchase 63 new Mi-17s from Rosoboronexport for nearly $1.1 billion, defense officials told Congress in August. It is unclear how many of those 63 have been delivered.
Senior Pentagon officials had previously defended the deals with Rosoboronexport - which were to total $1.1 billion over several years - as the fastest way to outfit the Afghan Air Force before most U.S. troops leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
But the Pentagon’s relationship with the company and other foreign contractors involved in the program has faced bipartisan criticism in the U.S. Congress. Critics cited Rosoboronexport’s deals with Syria; the helicopters’ escalating costs; and federal procurement investigations involving the Russian helicopter project.