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Controversial Russian Helicopters for Afghan Military May Be More Expensive Than American-Made Chinook Helicopters

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The Pentagon drew sharp criticism from lawmakers a few weeks ago when a Russian manufacturer meant to supply the Afghan army with helicopters was linked to supplying weapons for Syrian President Bashar al Assad. The Pentagon insisted that it went with the Russian models because it made training easier and was ultimately cheaper, however they eventually relented. A purchase for the 2014 fiscal year was cancelled; however the Department of Defense or DoD planned to go through with a purchase of 30 machines scheduled for the previous year.

Unfortunately, those DoD officials may have misled the lawmakers. “The U.S. Army’s workhorse Chinook, built by Boeing in Pennsylvania, was found to be ‘the most cost-effective single platform type fleet for the Afghan Air Force over a twenty year’ period,” according to a report from the Associated Press citing an internal study it obtained.

Senator John Cornyn of Texas, who led the charge back in November and has been the most vocal critic of the deal, has said that the DoD and Pentagon officials willfully misled them about the deal.

However Pentagon officials are denying Cornyn’s claims outright. They admit that the Chinooks might have been cheaper in the long-run, but that the Russian helicopters best meet “the immediate needs of the Afghan military.” Also, some members of the Afghan military had experience flying the Russian models, thus making training a little easier. Since only the unclassified portions of the study were released to the AP, it’s possible that the reasoning cited by Pentagon officials is found in those classified sections.

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The study notes that the Afghan forces are more familiar with the Russian model and that introducing unfamiliar American helicopters might undermine training efforts. However, they also suggested that eventually the fleet transition to the American-made Chinooks. That option had yet to be discussed outside of the context of the study. The Russian manufacturer maintains that it was open and transparent in the negotiations, but released no specific data regarding manufacturing costs or profits.