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Mi-17 Helicopter

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Afghan Mi-17 Helicopter
Afghan Mi-17 Helicopter
Photo: USAF MSgt Keith Brown

Mi-17 Helicopters. The Afghan Air Force currently has 87 Mi-17 helicopters 1. in their inventory; with the last three delivered in Fall 2014. The Afghans are using them for transport of supplies, conduct of air assaults, light lift, personnel transport, CASEVACs, resupply, air interdiction, aerial escort and armed overwatch. Unfortunately the Mi-17s are sometimes used less for supplies, CASEVACs, and air assaults and more for the movement of VIPs. For a number of years (in the earlier part of the conflict) the Afghans were using the Mi-17s for the transport of drugs. There were plans to purchase more Mi-17s from the Russians for the Special Mission Wing; but this venture ran into problems with Congress after an unfavorable SIGAR report on the readiness of the SMW to fly and maintain the aircraft. The contracts awarded to overhaul Mi-17 helicopters came under the scruntiny of the DoD Inspector General's office. 3.

Operational Status? Although counted in the overall inventory some of the Mi-17s are grounded due to replacement parts scarcity. The U.S. military, because of a 2014 ban on U.S. cooperation with the Russian arms industry, is unable to procure replacements parts for the Mi-17 transport helicoptors. Many of the Mi-17s are not operational.

Weapons. As of February 2015 some of the Mi-17s were armed with two 7.62mm door guns and 12 aircraft had GSh-23 23mm forward firing cannons. 2.

Mi-17 or Black Hawk Helicopters? One should actually say "Afghan capability or U.S. Politics". There are members in the U.S. Congress who fervently pushed for Black Hawk helicopters to be purchased for the Afghan Air Force. One would not be surprised to find that these same members of Congress have businesses in their respective states or districts that would benefit from the Black Hawks being chosen. 4. There are some very sound reasons why the Mi-17 is the better helicopter for Afghanistan. The AAF has experience operating Russian-made helicopters. The cost of the Mi-17 is lower as is the cost of operating and maintaining the Mi-17. The Mi-17 provides more lift and range in the high mountainous regions of Afghanistan than the Black Hawk. 5. There are some who attacked the purchase of the Mi-17s from the Russian firm based on human rights abuses of the Syrian regime (Russia provides weapons to the Syrian government). 6.

No More Russian Helicopters. Under pressure from the U.S. Congress the U.S. military has decided to no longer provide Russian helicopters or spare parts to the Afghan Air Force. This means that over 50 Mi-17s are destined for the graveyard and the AAF will need to start from scratch to train pilots and maintainers for the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters for the Afghan Air Force that are to be purchased for the Afghans. 7. 

Russia Picking Up the Slack. With the United States making the huge mistake of outfitting the Afghan Air Force with Black Hawks (years to field, years to train pilots and maintenance personnel, expensive to maintain, complicated to fly, too expensive, etc.) the AAF now is looking for how it can maintain its fleet of Mi-17s. Enter Russia. 8.

Training for Mi-17 Ends in Jan 2018. The training of Afghans to fly and maintain the Mi-17 at Fort Rucker, Alabama came to a close at the beginning of 2018. This is a result of the transition of the AAF from the Mi-17 to the UH-60. Fort Rucker had a seven-year long training program for the Afghan Air Force for the Mi-17. At the height of the training a fleet of five Mi-17s was maintained at Fort Rucker. 9.

Videos about the Afghan Air Force Mi-17

Mi-17 - A Platform in Transition, CENTCOM Public Affairs, September 6, 2017. A short 2-min video about the transition from the Russia-built Mi-17 to the U.S.-built UH-60.



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1. Some sources say 86 Mi-17s while others say 87 Mi-17s as of February 2015. Guess it depends on who is counting that day. Or perhaps it was 87 and one crashed?

2. Text in quotes take from a AAF trifold posted by Resolute Support Headquarters on February 4, 2015.

3. For more on problems associated with the overhaul of Mi-17s for the AAF see "Results in Brief: Mi-17 Overhauls Had Significant Cost Overruns and Schedule Delays", Report No. DoDIG-2012-135, Project No. D2011-D000AS-0241.0000, September 27, 2012. Report available here.

4. For an example of congressional meddling in military affairs that have adverse effects on the prosecution of the Afghan war see a news story entitled "DeLauro: No U.S. funds to train Afghans to fly Russian-made helicopters", The Shelton Herald, July 24, 2013. DeLauro inserted an amendment into the FY 2014 Defense Department Appropriations Bill that would prohibit money from being used to train Afghan pilots on the Mi-17 helicopters of the Afghan Special Mission Wing. Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro represents the Third District of Connecticut which includes the town of Stratford, CT -  home of Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation and maker of the Blackhawk helicopter that some members of congress would want to force on the Afghan Air Force. Once again, hometown politics trumping sane military decision-making.

5. For more on the advantages of the Mi-17 over the Blackhawk see "Mi-17 Helicopters: The Best Choice for the Afghan Air Force and the U.S. Taxpayer", The Heritage Foundation, July 23, 2013. The news article can be accessed here.

6. Human Rights First, How to Stop Doing Business with Russia's Arm Exporter, July 2013. This organization criticizes the purchase of the Mi-17s for the Afghan Air Force.

7. See "U.S. Will Buy No More Russian Helos for Afghans", AINonline, December 13, 2016.

8. Read "Russia meets with Afghan Ministry of Defense to finalize attack helicopter trade deal", by Derek Gannon, SOFREP, March 22, 2017.

9. "Army role in training Afghan pilots on Mi-17 helicopters comes to an end", DVIDS, January 17, 2018.


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