The US Department of Defense (DoD) is reportedly planning to continue the acquisition of Russian helicopters for the Afghan military, despite protests from the US Congress.
Rosoboronexport deputy head Igor Sevastyanov was quoted by RIA Novosti as saying: "Regardless of [US] congressmen’s protests, different types of substitution [or] switching over to US production, the American military in the Pentagon are persistently insisting on purchasing Russian helicopters."
US lawmakers are urging the Pentagon to cancel contracts with Rosoboronexport in the wake of Russia’s actions in the ongoing crisis in Ukraine.
However, the DoD insists that the contract cancellation would be a ‘catastrophic’ blow to the Afghan Security Forces’ ability to execute counter-terrorist missions.
International Security Assistance Force and US Forces Afghanistan commander marine general Joseph Dunford was quoted by the Stars and Stripes as saying: "The reason I use the word catastrophic, which I don’t think is hyperbole, is because the inability of the Afghans to have the operational reach represented by the Mi-17 will seriously deteriorate their ability to take the fight to the enemy.
"But the more important reason I use the word catastrophic, is their inability to take the fight to the enemy will actually put young Americans in harm’s way in 2015 and beyond."
To date, the Pentagon has signed three contracts with Russian state arms exporter Rosoboronexport for the delivery of more than 70 Mil Mi-17V5 transport helicopters for the Afghan Army.
The Mi-17 helicopter deal was also criticised in 2012, after the US Congress overwhelmingly voted against working with Rosoboronexport following its delivery of weapons to Syria and Iran.
An export version of the Mi-8 Hip helicopter, the Mi-17 is intended to improve the Afghan Army’s capabilities for urban warfare and special unit operations against Taliban insurgents.
Image: Two Afghan National Air Corps MI-17 helicopters in flight. Photo: courtesy of tech Sgt Cecilio M Ricardo Jr.