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Pentagon Admits Afghanistan's New Black Hawks Can't Match Its Russian Choppers

15.06.2018 / The Drive / Joseph Trevithick

A report from a top U.S. military watchdog has finally acknowledged that the UH-60A+ Black Hawks that the United States is supplying to the Afghan Air Force are less capable and harder to maintain than the Russian-made Mi-17 Hip helicopters they have now. The review raises concerns that this could limit Afghanistan’s ability to conduct operations across the country unless steps are taking to mitigate the loss of capability, something we at The War Zone have long warned could easily be the case.
The Pentagon’s own Office of the Inspector General included these frank admissions in a routine, periodic update on U.S. military operations in Afghanistan, nicknamed Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, and assistance to the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF), which it released in May 2018. The Department of Defense leads this oversight effort, which also includes representatives from the U.S. State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development.
“The transition [from Mi-17s to UH-60s] presents several challenges that have yet to be fully addressed,” the report says in a section dedicated to the issue. “Black Hawks do not have the lift capacity of Mi-17s.”
“They are unable to accommodate some of the larger cargo items the Mi-17s can carry, and in general, it takes almost two Black Hawks to carry the load of a single Mi-17,” the review continues. “Furthermore, unlike Mi-17s, Black Hawks cannot fly at high elevations and, as such, cannot operate in remote regions of Afghanistan where Mi-17s operate.”
These are relatively damning statements to come out of the Pentagon itself, given that it has pushed for and continually defended the delivery of the Black Hawks to the Afghan Air Force as essential to both the effort to modernize that service and a broader goal of improving the Afghan military’s ability to conduct operations independently of the NATO-led coalition in the country.  The U.S. military eventually hopes to supply a total of nearly 160 UH-60s, including gunship versions with forward-firing weapons, to both the Afghan Air Force and the special operations-dedicated Special Mission Wing (SMW).
As of December 2017, the Afghan Air Force had eight UH-60A+ helicopters. The plan is for the service to have 52 of the rotary wing aircraft operational by the end of 2019. The A+ model aircraft have the same engines as the later UH-60L, as well as other minor modifications, but lack the latest updates available on U.S. Army types, such as digital flight management systems.
But even so, the Black Hawks are significantly more complex than the Mi-17s, which raises additional maintenance and logistics issues. Afghan ground crews are responsible for 80 percent of the maintenance on the Hips themselves, with the remaining 20 percent being heavy depot maintenance they do not have the facilities to perform in-country. Private contractors provide the bulk of the support, at significant additional cost, for the other aircraft types across the Afghan Air Force and SMW.

Russian helicopters magazine
Issue #2 (34) 2018
2018 year