Russian defence company Rosoboronexport had supplied Pentagon 33 Mi-17 V-5 helicopters for Afghan Air Force. Source: Reuters
A delegation of U.S. congressmen has demanded the Pentagon terminate its contract with Russian defense contractor Rosoboronexport for the delivery helicopters to Afghanistan, insisting the U.S. should not procure military equipment from a country supplying weapons to the Syrian government.
However, the congressmen backing the appeal have sponsors that include some major U.S. defense companies.
The letter addressed to new U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel was the brainchild of 10 congressmen, including both Democrats and Republicans. The legislators demanded that the Pentagon abandon plans to purchase 20 additional military transport helicopters from Russia for the Afghan air force, until Moscow quits selling arms to the regime of Bashar al-Assad.
Russian officials have repeatedly assured that no new arms deals have been struck with Syria, and that Rosoboronexport is merely fulfilling old contracts to supply spare parts for Syria's helicopters and air defense systems.
Regardless of whether the Obama administration believed the assurances, last year it rejected two similar requests from the congressmen for a ban on the purchase of the first 33 Russian-made Mi-17 V5 helicopters for an estimated $600 million.
The deal went forward, despite the congressmen's introduction of restrictive amendments to the military budget. The U.S. administration exercised its right to ignore such requests, "for reasons of national security."
U.S. officials have repeatedly stressed that they have no intention of tearing up the "chopper contract" with Moscow. The fact is that the Afghan military is used to flying Soviet helicopters, so the training process would be simpler if Russian rotorcraft are made available.
Furthermore, Washington is impressed by the quality of Russian helicopters and their suitability for operations in Afghanistan.
"These Mi-17 helicopters will allow the Afghan army to amass vital skills that will be sorely needed when the ISAF mission comes to an end in 2014. Afghan pilots are used to flying the Mi-17 — they've flown them for a long time and are satisfied with their performance. That's the reality we live in," said Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby last June.
The White House clarified that the deal for the purchase of Russian helicopters was in line with U.S. national interests, since the Mi-17 is ideally suited for conditions in Afghanistan. Nevertheless, the congressmen are demanding that the Pentagon "hold an open tender for the purchase of helicopters for the Afghan national security forces."
It is not ruled out, however, that, in calling for an end to cooperation with Rosoboronexport, the congressmen are in fact lobbying the interests of the U.S. military-industrial complex. The main initiator of the appeal, Democrat Rosa Delauro, represents Connecticut, which happens to be the location of Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation — one of the largest U.S. aircraft construction companies.
Throughout her political career, the bulk of donations for Delauro's election campaigns (as shown by a Kommersant report based on open-source data) has come from United Technologies Corporation, which owns Sikorsky.
Major donations from such U.S. defense industry giants as Raytheon Co., Northrop Grumman Corp., Mantech International, Boeing Co., and Lockheed Martin Corp. were also received in recent years by eight of the nine other authors of the appeal.
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