Why is the US purchasing Russian-made helicopters?

The U.S. has been involved in the hostilities in Afghanistan longer than any other war in this nation’s history.

And while negotiations continue between Washington and Kabul over when and how the U.S. will extricate itself from Afghanistan, an interesting chapter is being unveiled regarding the purchase of helicopters for the use of Afghan forces.

The tab is about $1 billion, which is a small fraction of the overall cost of operations in Afghanistan, but here’s the kicker: At the Pentagon’s insistent, that $1 billion is being spent to buy Russian-made helicopters.

Yes, the same Russia that that has been stymieing U.S. efforts to stop the massacre in Syria and the same Russia that has given asylum to national security leaker Edward Snowden is profiting handsomely at the expense of U.S. taxpayers.

The deal wouldn’t make sense even if the United States were saving a ton of money by buying Russian rather than American, but it appears that the Pentagon, for whatever reason, has been misleading Congress on the true comparative costs.

The deal to buy Russian Mi-17 helicopters for use in Afghanistan has been getting unfavorable reviews in Congress for sometime, but, as the Associated Press reported recently, a top-secret Pentagon study actually said the U.S. Army’s workhorse Chinook was “the most cost-effective single platform type fleet for the Afghan Air Force over a 20-year” period.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, one of the most vocal critics of the contract, said the Defense Department “repeatedly and disingenuously” used the study to support buying Mi-17s. It’s clear that he isn’t going to let this issue die. He shouldn’t, and he should get a lot of support from both sides of the aisle.

It’s not just that Boeing builds Chinook helicopters in a Philadelphia, Pa., suburb, it’s that the component parts that go into those machines are also U.S.-made, from avionics, to engines and transmissions to the high-grade alloys in the frame and body. The economic effects of buying American rather than Russian reverberate in communities throughout the United States.

Buying the Mi17s was justified by some U.S. commanders on the grounds that Afghan forces were more familiar with the Russian helicopters. But it’s not as if the Chinook is an unknown factor in Afghanistan. Several nations that have had a presence in the Afghanistan war have used the Chinook, including Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Canada, and Australia.

Lengthy service

The Chinook, like the C-130 fixed wing aircraft, has provided service to U.S. and allied forces since the Vietnam War, with obvious improvements and upgrades over the years.

There’s no reason Afghanistan’s forces couldn’t and shouldn’t have been weaned from the Russian helicopter and transitioned to the Chinook, especially since U.S. taxpayers were paying the bill.

Finally, there are serious questions about fraud and corruption in the Russians arms industry. The Pentagon should be avoiding such entanglements as a matter of course for itself, and certainly shouldn’t be encouraging a relationship between Afghanistan and Russia that would survive the U.S. withdrawal from the war.

The only good that might come out of this Mi17 contract and the way in which the Pentagon apparently misrepresented its value would be a renewed interest by Congress in assuring that U.S. businesses and U.S. workers are given priority when tax dollars are being spent.

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