Russian Made Choppers to Afghanistan?August 13, 2010 - 12:04 PM | by: Meredith Orban
American helicopter manufacturer Sikorsky is formally protesting U.S. Naval Air Systems Command (Navair) plans to purchase 21 Russian-made transport choppers for use in Afghanistan. The Connecticut based company filed the protest with the U.S. Government Accountability Office on August 5th, claiming that their S-61 model is comparable to the Russian Mi-17 Navair is looking to procure and that it can accomplish the same mission.
Sikorsky is seeking the ability to bid for the U.S. government contract. The protest states, “Sikorsky has a respected history of designing, manufacturing, maintaining and providing training for helicopters that are fully capable of meeting or exceeding the performance capabilities of the Mi-17…” In a statement, Paul Jackson, a spokesman for Sikorsky, said “Sikorsky is not challenging the government’s right to sole-source or ‘brand name’ contracts in the absence of viable alternatives. In this case, we believe we offer a highly viable alternative.”
Navair is purchasing the choppers for use in Afghanistan for the Combined Security Transition Command. A defense official familiar with situation says the request for the Mi-17 helicopters came directly from the NATO training mission in Afghanistan and refers to the Russian made Mi-17 as a good stop-gap because the Afghan’s need them now and already know how to use them. According to the official, the Mi-17’s were designed by the Russians for Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon is saying these contractors will have plenty opportunities to supply other types of helicopters to the region. Lieutenant Colonel Mark Wright, a Department of Defense spokesman, told Fox the Pentagon has “committed to expanding the Afghan Air Force from 35 Mi-17s to 56 Mi-17s to meet immediate operational requirements, while also identifying alternative platforms for addressing longer-term needs.”
Richard Aboulafia, a defense industry analyst with the Teal Group says the Sikorsky S-61 and Russian made Mi-17 are comparable aircraft that “both basically do the same thing. They take a squad of troops and their equipment and move them from one base to another.” They’re both relatively easy to maintain in the rugged Afghanistan terrain, according to Aboulafia. “They were both designed in simpler times before cockpits were filled with electronics and computers… you could fix them with stuff just lying around. Duct tape and chewing gum as the joke goes.”
Aboulafia says it’s a question of priorities. “In terms of sheer simplicity and getting this thing into the field as quickly as possible, the Mi-17 is probably the way to go. It’s what the Afghans are most familiar with. But, if your priority is keeping the supply chain controlled by U.S. contractors and keeping the profits associated with this effort in U.S. hands then definitely you want the Sikorsky product.”