Mi-17V-5 for one of the foreign customers. Photo: Rosoboronexport / roe.ru
The Afghan army now has several dozen multi-purpose Russian-made Mi-17V-5 helicopters. This technique finds application in solving a variety of problems and has proven itself well. However, a decision was made to abandon it in favor of other foreign designs. At the insistence of the United States, the Afghan command plans to write off the Mi-17V-5 and master new technology - naturally, the American one.
Purchase and Replacement
According to the IISS The Military Balance, Afghanistan has 76 Mi-17 helicopters. The bulk of this park, 63 units, was delivered by Russia under a contract of 2011. The order paid for the so-called Helicopter fund, the main contribution to which the United States makes as part of helping friendly Afghanistan. The last helicopters went to the customer in 2014. For the execution of the order, the Russian side received $ 1,3 billion.
The 2011 contract provided for the extension and ordering of new batches of equipment. However, in 2014, relations between Russia and the United States deteriorated sharply, which excluded the possibility of new deliveries. In addition, Washington and Kabul had problems with the repair and maintenance of equipment - for this they had to turn to organizations from third countries.
In 2017, the United States launched the Afghan Aviation Transition Plan (AATP) program, which aims to replace army equipment aviation Afghanistan with the complete crowding out of Russian samples. According to the original plans, until 2021, all Afghan Mi-17V-5 were to give way to 159 American UH-60A Black Hawk. Soon, several U.S. helicopters underwent repairs and modernization, after which they went to Afghanistan.
In December 2019, the Department of Defense sent Congress another report of Enhancing Security and Stability In Afghanistan, describing the current situation and current plans. Together with other topics, the document revealed the state of the Afghan helicopter fleet, as well as the main ways of its modernization.
Mi-17 of the Afghan army during a joint operation, 2011. Photo: US Army
According to the report, the Air Force has a total of 45 Mi-17V-5 helicopters. Other vehicles were lost under certain circumstances, both due to enemy actions and due to insufficient personnel qualifications. 23 helicopters are operational and ready for service. Other machines need repair.
The second operator of the Mi-17V-5 is the "special operations wing" special mission wing (SMW). He owns 30 Russian-made helicopters used for transportation of personnel, fire support and other support for special operations.
According to Pentagon plans, the last Russian helicopters will be decommissioned in 2024, when the Afghan Air Force and SMW will receive a sufficient amount of US-made equipment. At the same time, supply plans were revised - with a decrease in the total quantity, but an extension of the list of types and modifications.
Previously, it was planned to supply 159 UH-60A helicopters, including several dozen transport and combat UH-60FFF. Now their number has been reduced to 53 units. - This is how the current needs of the SMW and the Air Force are assessed. Along with this, it is proposed to transfer to Afghanistan up to 20 CH-47 Chinook helicopters with higher performance. This technique is intended only for the Special Operations Wing.
One of the advantages of the Mi-17V-5 is the convenience of landing and disembarkation. Photo: US Army
As follows from recent reports and reports, the US will not build equipment from scratch. Helicopters will be decommissioned in the US Army, repaired and modernized according to the latest projects, and then transferred to a friendly country. It was reported that Afghanistan will be given the repaired UH-60 of the eighties. The age of CH-47, planned for transfer, has not yet been specified.
It is easy to guess that the latest events around the Afghan helicopter fleet are exclusively related to politics and economics. Disputes of this kind arose even at the stage of placing the order in 2011, although at that time they managed to defend it. To date, the situation has seriously changed and is not conducive to continued cooperation with Russia.
Recall in the 2010-11 tender. The Russian Mi-17V-5 helicopter outperformed several foreign competitors due to the successful balance of tactical, technical and operational characteristics. The advantages of this machine are a relatively large carrying capacity, the ability to solve various problems and adaptability to work at mountain airfields. In addition, the Mi-17V-5 is quite easy to maintain, and Afghan specialists already had experience working with Soviet and Russian-made equipment.
The upcoming contract with Russia was severely criticized. In fact, it provided for the purchase of equipment for an ally from a potential enemy. However, technical and operational aspects prevailed over politics, as well as the desire to support its own manufacturer.
Another example of accelerated loading through a ramp. Photo: US Army
In the future, the political situation in the world changed, which led to serious problems. Afghan helicopters needed maintenance and repair, but the United States could no longer entrust such work to Russian enterprises. There was a way out in the form of cooperation with Slovakia, but this almost led to a scandal.
In 2017, they launched a new AATP program, the conditions of which exclude the supply of equipment from third countries. Due to this, US-Afghan cooperation will no longer depend on a strategic adversary represented by Russia.
In addition, the issue of finance is of great importance. This time, money for the modernization and delivery of helicopters will go to American companies and remain in the United States. In 2017, it was reported that the preparation of the first batch of UH-60A helicopters out of 53 units. will cost $ 814 million. The cost of work on 20 CH-47 has not yet been reported. However, it is clear that the total cost for the supply of helicopters will exceed $ 1-1,1 billion. Thus, the helicopter fleet of Afghanistan is too much commercial interest to trust its updating to third countries.
Wide range of problems
It is obvious that the transfer of the Air Force and SMW of Afghanistan to the new helicopter equipment will not be simple and painless. Kabul and Washington will have to deal with a host of problems of a very different nature. Some of them make operation and use difficult, while others can lead to accidents or disasters.
First of all, two countries will have to provide retraining of flight and technical personnel. According to American estimates, retraining a pilot from Mi-17V-5 to UH-60A takes only 3 months, preparation from scratch takes more than a year. Training technicians is no less difficult. However, its results are far from obvious.
Helicopter and landing on exercises, November 10, 2013. Photo: US Air Force
The operational experience of Russian helicopters shows that the technical staff does not always cope with their work, and the Mi-17V-5 is considered relatively easy to operate. One can imagine what risks will arise when operating more complex UH-60 or CH-47. A life cycle cost increase is also expected due to the origin of the machinery itself and its spare parts.
At one time, the Mi-17V-5 outperformed its competitors due to its good transportation capabilities. In the mountainous conditions of Afghanistan, it is capable of lifting at least 2 tons of cargo placed in a comfortable cabin with a stern ramp. The American UH-60A has only side doors, and its carrying capacity in the mountains is limited to 1 ton.
For the CH-47, the maximum load exceeds 12 tons. Even with a decrease in performance with increasing height, the Chinook is ahead of the Mi-17V-5 in carrying capacity. However, this helicopter is larger and heavier than the Russian one, as well as more expensive and more difficult to maintain.
The Russian machine compares favorably with the ability to carry a wide range of weapons to support ground forces. On the Mi-17V-5 machine gun mounts are mounted in the openings; there is an external suspension for machine-gun and cannon containers, unguided missiles, etc. American cars are armed with machine guns. The UH-60FFF also receives LASS pylons for the suspension of other weapons.
According to current plans, the implementation of the AATP program will end in 2024. A total of about 7 years and about $ 1 billion will be spent on its implementation. The result will be a change in the composition and structure of the helicopter fleet of the army aviation and the “wing of special operations” with mixed consequences.
The first two UH-60A transferred to Afghanistan in 2017. Photo by the US Army
It is proposed to remove from service all 76 available Mi-17s of various modifications. Perhaps the equipment suitable for further exploitation will be sold to other countries. Instead, Afghanistan will receive 53 UH-60A helicopters, including a number of armed "FFF", as well as 20 CH-47. For the three countries that are somehow involved in this situation, all these processes will have different meanings.
The United States will benefit from an economic and political character - an ally will be “tied” stronger with its equipment, and the money for its purchase will remain in the country. At the same time, Russia will not be able to receive a new order for the Mi-17V-5, provided for in the 2011 agreement (although no one had counted on it for a long time).
In the most difficult situation are the Afghan Air Force and SMW. They will not only have to learn new equipment and increase spending on its maintenance, but also to rebuild the army logistics system, as well as revise plans for combat use. American helicopters differ significantly from Russian ones in their characteristics, and this can affect various aspects of operation. In addition, it seems that Afghanistan will have to prepare for an increase in accident rate.
However, in this situation, the leading role remains with the United States. The party paying for the rearmament decides for itself what its foreign partner needs and chooses helicopters for it. There are no prerequisites for changing this situation. Apparently, the AATP program will successfully end with the rearmament of the Afghan army, but without Russian participation.