Oct 21 2009


Senator Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.), a member of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, today sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates underscoring his concerns regarding the current program to provide Mi-17 helicopters to the Afghan and Iraqi militaries.

“The DoD program to provide Russian-made Mi-17s for the Afghan military appears to be an ad hoc procurement process with inadequate oversight.  The program is undefined, delayed, and simply not a good use of taxpayer funds,” said Shelby.

The full text of the letter is below.  

October 21, 2009


The Honorable Robert M. Gates
Secretary of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, D.C.  20301-1000

Dear Mr. Secretary,

            I am writing with my serious concerns over the current program to provide Mi-17 helicopters for the Afghan and Iraqi militaries.  The program appears to be an ad hoc procurement process with inadequate oversight.  The program is undefined, delayed, and simply not a good use of taxpayer funds.

            The United States has spent $648.2 million to procure Russian-made Mi-17s for the Afghan military.  This decision to do so was made without any consideration for requirements, alternative airframes, or contract competition.  To argue that the Mi-17 was chosen because it is an airframe familiar to the Afghan military, which is the only reason the Department of Defense has given, is a red herring.  There were only six Mi-17 airframes in country in 2002.  In addition, the majority of former Afghan Air Force personnel will not be admitted into the new Air Corps due to age limitations and ethnic balance restrictions. 

            In Iraq, there were no Mi-17s in use by the Iraqi military prior to U.S. military efforts in 2003.  The Iraqi Mi-17 acquisition has been plagued by mass corruption in the Ministry of Defense, which made the decision to purchase this airframe without input from the Iraqi military or U.S. advisors. After a failed purchase of 30 airframes that were un-flyable when delivered, the Ministry of Defense was forced to renegotiate the contract into the purchase of 18.  Imprudently, the U.S. bought 22 additional Mi-17s for no reason other than the questionable first procurement decision by the Iraqis.  Further, the U.S. contract was not competed, but sole-sourced.  Eighteen months later, the $345 million U.S./Iraqi acquisition contract is nearly a year behind schedule and the cost of airframes has skyrocketed.

            The United States has spent $807.2 million on the purchase of Russian-made Mi-17s.  Prior to this acquisition, no requirements were defined, no analysis of alternatives was completed, and no other airframes were considered.  Of even further concern, there is no predictability of funds to support the Russian helicopter procurement.  Multiple Services are involved in this procurement effort and yet there has not been a single aviation program management office appointed to oversee this program. In fact, it took two months of requests from my office to receive material on the subject.  Mr. Secretary, if not properly resourced and managed, how can the goal of establishing autonomous aviation capabilities for Iraq and Afghanistan ever be accomplished? 

             We must stop this procurement, then define clear requirements, analyze alternative airframes, and select the best helicopter for the mission.  We should provide the Iraqis and the Afghanis with the optimum helicopter for their lift requirements.  We cannot do this by basing our decisions on false assumptions, a total lack of requirements analysis, and the Russians.



                                                                        Richard Shelby



cc:        General David H. Petraeus, Commander, U.S. Central Command
The Honorable Dean Popps, Acting Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology