It’s called the Mi-17 secret study, when the Pentagon bypassed U.S. companies to buy a $1 billion helicopter package for Afghanistan. The Mi-17 package included dozens of rotor crafts for the Afghan security forces.
Senior Pentagon officials assured skeptical members of Congress that the Defense Department had made the right call. They repeatedly cited a 2010 study that it was the superior choice. However, turns out the study told a very different story.
An American-made helicopter, the U.S. Army’s workhorse Chinook built by Boeing in Pennsylvania, was found to be “the most cost-effective single platform type fleet for the Afghan Air Force over a twenty year” period, according to the unclassified excerpts.
Lawmakers who closely had followed the helicopter deal were stunned.
Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the Senate’s No. 2 GOP leader and one of the most vocal critics of the contract, said the Department of Defense “repeatedly and disingenuously” used the study to prove the necessity of buying Mi-17s.
More than two years since the Mi-17 contract was signed, a veil of secrecy still obscures the pact despite its high-dollar value, the potential for fraud and waste, and accusations the Pentagon muffled important information. The unprecedented arms deal also serves as a reminder to a war-weary American public that Afghanistan will remain heavily dependent on U.S. financial support even after its combat troops depart.
“So why are we buying Russian helicopters when there are American manufacturers that can meet that very same requirement?” Cornyn asked. “Makes no sense whatsoever and the Department of Defense has steadfastly refused to cooperate with reasonable inquiries into why in the world they continue to persist along this pathway.”
As recently as September, Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter cited the study in a letter to House members defending the decision. Carter left his job this past week.
Last year, Frank Kendall, the Pentagon’s top acquisition official, and policy chief James Miller pointed to the study in a written response to questions posed by Cornyn.
Just a few weeks after the secret study was completed, Army Secretary John McHugh wrote in a 2011 memo “that the Mi-17 stands apart” when compared with other helicopters.
The Pentagon denies it misled Congress.
A senior department official said the study was focused on long-term requirements and not the immediate needs of the Afghan military, which were best met by the Mi-17.