The Afghan Air Force received two new Mi-17 helicopters on July 8, 2010. These two aircraft are part of a purchase of ten new helicopters to be fulfilled by November 2010.
The contract to purchase these ten aircraft is worth $155 million. The current AAF fleet includes 25 Mi-17 helicopters. This is the continuation of a buildup of the fleet to 56 helicopters by 2012.
The Mi-17 is perfectly suited to the needs of Afghanistan. Its original design was one optimized for Afghanistan’s high, rugged terrain and blistering summer temperatures. Second, Afghans have been flying and training in these aircraft for the last 30 years. They are already familiar with maintenance requirements of the aircraft, and using them allowed an air force with considerable battlefield mobility to rise from the ashes of Afghanistan’s war-torn past with almost immediate impact. Finally, the price is very reasonable when compared against Western aircraft of similar high-altitude lifting and payload capability.
“The Mi-17 is vitally important to Afghanistan today to support the counter-insurgency effort, and will continue to be important for the future of Afghanistan,” said Brig. Gen. Michael R. Boera, the Commanding General, Combined Air Power Transition Force, NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan/Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan, and Commander, 438th Air Expeditionary Wing.
“The Mi-17s have been used to rescue flood victims down to the south and out to the west. It’s been used to rescue Afghan citizens off of the mountain peaks–trapped by an avalanche in the Salang pass–and helped recover remains from the Pamir Airways airliner crash in landing zones up at 13,000 feet. And it’s been used to support past national elections getting the ballots to some locations unreachable by other means, except maybe by donkey. The AAF is planning now to do the same for the September elections.”
The service ceiling of the Mi-17 is over 16,000 feet and can transport 24 passengers or 8,800 lbs. of cargo. The Mi-17 comes with a price tag of approximately $15 million, which is one-half to one-third as expensive as Western aircraft with similar capabilities.
“In time, a transition to a Western medium-lift helicopter may be the right thing to do. But for now, the growth and development of the Afghan Air Force, as well as its ability to support today’s fight depends on us staying the course with the Mi-17,” said General Boera. “I would not want to have to send more Afghans outside of the country, and keep more US forces in Afghanistan longer to effect a challenging transition to a medium-lift Western helicopter prematurely,” he added.
The Mi-17 fleet provides the AAF with a wide variety of mission capabilities to include Presidential/distinguished visitor transportation, medical and casualty evacuation (MEDEVAC/CASEVAC), battlefield mobility, basic cargo airlift, reconnaissance, rotary-wing training, and close air support (CAS). Most recently, after completing critical training for its aircrew, the Afghans have added an air assault and sling load capability.
Afghanistan’s Mi-17s will be interoperable with allied and current coalition service systems. There are 77 other nations world-wide that currently employ the Mi-17, including coalition partners Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland.