(Adds comment from Democratic senator, paragraphs 12-14)
By Warren Strobel
WASHINGTON Nov 13 The Pentagon no longer will
buy Russian helicopters for the Afghan Air Force from
Rosoboronexport, a state-owned arms exporter that also sells
weapons to the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad,
U.S. defense officials and a leading Senate opponent of such
deals said on Wednesday.
The switch in Pentagon policy appears to end, at least for
now, its plans to buy an additional 15 Russian Mi-17 helicopters
for $345 million, sources familiar with the matter said.
"I applaud the Defense Department's decision to finally
cancel its plan to buy additional helicopters from
Rosoboronexport," Senator John Cornyn, Texas Republican, said in
"Doing business with the supplier of these helicopters has
been a morally bankrupt policy, and as a nation, we should no
longer be subsidizing Assad's war crimes," Cornyn said.
Defense Department spokeswoman Maureen Schumann said in an
email: "After initially requesting funds from Congress in the
FY14 (2014 fiscal year) budget to provide additional
enhancements for the Afghan National Security Forces, the
department has re-evaluated requirements in consultation with
"We currently do not have plans to purchase additional Mi17s
from Rosoboronexport beyond those in the Afghan Program of
Record," she said.
The Pentagon had planned to purchase 63 new Mi-17s from
Rosoboronexport for nearly $1.1 billion, defense officials told
Congress in August. It is unclear how many of those 63 have been
Senior Pentagon officials had previously defended the deals
with Rosoboronexport - which were to total $1.1 billion over
several years - as the fastest way to outfit the Afghan Air
Force before most U.S. troops leave Afghanistan by the end of
But the Pentagon's relationship with the company and other
foreign contractors involved in the program has faced bipartisan
criticism in the U.S. Congress. Critics cited Rosoboronexport's
deals with Syria; the helicopters' escalating costs; and federal
procurement investigations involving the Russian helicopter
Reuters reported in August that the Defense Criminal
Investigative Service had opened a criminal probe into the
Huntsville, Alabama, Army aviation unit that oversees the Mi-17
program, and ties between the unit's former chief and two
No charges have been filed in the case.
"The Army's mishandling of this arms program, as well as the
Afghan military's inability to maintain the helicopters, further
underscores why this contract should have been canceled long
ago," Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, said
in a statement.
"I applaud (the Defense Department) for correcting this
wrong, and hope the agency buys American in the future," added
Blumenthal, whose state is home to helicopter manufacturer
Sikorsky Aircraft, a division of United Technologies Corp
Blumenthal said he plans to introduce legislation that would
ban contracts "with foreign companies that enable war crimes in
Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter called Cornyn last
week to tell him the Pentagon was cancelling the additional
helicopter purchases, according to a Senate aide who spoke on
condition of anonymity.
It remains unclear whether the Pentagon has alternative
plans to bolster the Afghan Air Force's capabilities to fight
militants and drug trafficking.
A U.S. Army planning document, dated Nov. 6 and obtained by
Reuters, shows that the service had planned to deliver a total
of 30 Mi-17s for the Afghan Air Force's Special Mission Wing
between now and Oct. 1, 2014.
(Editing by David Brunnstrom and Will Dunham)