Thursday, April 24, 2014

Russian Helicopters for Afghanistan?

I received my quarterly "Washington Report" from my local U.S. Representative today.



I typically read it and toss it out without thinking much. It's packed with rhetoric from a guy who has been in D.C. for nearly 25 years now. (Oh, and his Daddy held the office before him... so you know the value of a name).

Anyway, this particular edition had a bit that caught my eye:
"As of last year, the Pentagon had purchased 50 helicopters from a Russian company, Rosoboronexport, for use in Afghanistan at a total cost of $857 million."
In this case, the Congressman makes a good point.

Why are we, as American tax payers, buying helicopters for Afghans with an economic benefit that doesn't even serve an ally? Instead, we're going to fund Russia, a company that we may or may not be on the brink of war with?

A Russian-made Mi-17 helicopter. Photo Credit: AIM.org

Taking the issue one step farther, while there seems to be some sort of apathy toward the absolute withdrawal of American forces in Afghanistan, I believe if you put it to a vote the public would say bring everybody home.

Oh, and Rosoboronexport, the Russian company involved isn't involved like Lockheed-Martin, Halliburton, or one of the so-called "evil" American companies the government often does business with. No, in Russia, they take away all doubt because Rosoboronexport is a state-owned company.

In the United States, you could argue one hand shakes the other as lobbyists, politicians and profits swirl together in democracy. In this case and in Russia, we may as well be cutting the check directly to Vladimir Putin.

But this apparently gets even worse. Reports that are apparently more recent than the info supplied to my Congressman claim the total bill is now more than $1 billion.

So what's the other side of the argument?

Ease of use.

A pair of American airmen flank an Afghan Air Force maintenance worker near a Mi-17 chopper.
Photo Credit: Defense.gov

The rotary craft, or Mi-17 chopper, is the "Ford F-150 pickup truck" of helicopters, Lt. Gen. David Barno, the head of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan from 2003 to 2005 said according to the Christian Science Monitor. "They're like farm tractors - they're simple to operate, simple avionics, simple to maintain."

They are also familiar to Afghan pilots, who flew them during the Soviet era.

Yes, but are they simple enough that if Afghanistan falls to some sort of extremist sect that the terrorists in charge who find the keys will be able to operate them and use them fire at our men and women?

After all, those types of loses would make the billion dollar investment our taxpayers have made seem like just a drop in the bucket.
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