[WASHINGTON, DC] – Today, U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Joni Ernst (R-IA) called on the Department of Defense (DoD) to end U.S. reliance on Russian-made helicopters to support the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF). For more than a decade, DoD has supplied the ANDSF with Russian-made Mi-17 helicopters, but ongoing sanctions resulting from Russian aggression have beleaguered the program and halted the flow of aircraft, parts, and supplies. Today, the Senators urge DoD to develop an American-made alternative helicopter for the ANDSF before the problem becomes more acute. American-made helicopters, like the Sikorsky Black Hawk made in Connecticut, would provide the ANDSF with a reliable air-lift capability as they seek to bring stability to the region.

“As utility helicopters remain in high demand for mobility and close air support of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF), and Russia’s aggression remains unabated, our nation must definitively and permanently end reliance on Russian-made defense articles like the Mi-17,” the Senators wrote. “We urge DoD to develop a plan to field an American alternative to prevent such a problem from arising again.”

Full text of the letter is available here and below:

Dear Secretary Carter:

We write regarding reports that the Department of Defense (DoD) is experiencing challenges in supporting the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) with sustainment of its fleet of Russian-made Mi-17 helicopters, in part because of U.S. sanctions on Russia. We commend President Obama’s 2014 Executive Order 13661, which bans U.S. business with the Russian arms industry as a result of Russia’s illegal annexation and invasion of Crimea. In turn, this action has impacted DoD’s ability to continue to support a shrinking fleet of Afghan Mi-17 helicopters.

As utility helicopters remain in high demand for mobility and close air support of the ANDSF, and Russia’s aggression remains unabated, our nation must definitively and permanently end reliance on Russian-made defense articles like the Mi-17. We request detailed information regarding DoD’s strategy for supporting the requirements of the ANDSF for helicopters and supplying an American-made helicopter to the ANDSF going forward.

As threats in Afghanistan remain high, including from the Taliban, ISIL, and al Qaeda, the ANDSF relies on U.S. assistance and its own organic airpower to provide an asymmetric advantage over its adversaries. The need for airlift capability in a country such as Afghanistan is particularly critical with mountainous terrain and limited infrastructure. As helicopters are an essential element in the effort to secure Afghanistan, DoD must work to address this issue before the need for aviation capability becomes even more acute.

The U.S. began procuring Mi-17 helicopters in 2005 to help build the capacity of the ANDSF. While the current capability may serve as a temporary bridging solution, a more sustainable aviation fleet is required. Rosoboronexport is the sole exporter of Russian military articles, but sanctions prevent the U.S. from acquiring Mi-17 helicopters, parts, and supplies for the ANDSF. With Russia’s continued and increasing aggression, it is unlikely that sanctions will be lifted. Therefore, we urge DoD to develop a plan to field an American alternative to prevent such a problem from arising again. Thank you for your consideration and we look forward to working with you on this matter.

Sincerely,

Senator Richard Blumenthal

Senator Joni Ernst

 

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