The ultimate arbiter of the fairness of U.S. government contracts — that would be the Government Accountability Office — has ruled against Sikorsky Helicopter of Connecticut in favor of the Navy’s decision to limit the purchase of new choppers for the Afghan air force to a Russian model. Its decision, dated November 5, has just been released. Sikorsky, which makes the SH-3 Sea King and UH-60 Black Hawk choppers flown by the U.S. military, wanted to bid on a deal to provide the Afghan military with 21 modified SH-3 helicopters. But the Navy said the need to provide the Afghans with Russian-made Mi-17 helicopters was more important than the need for competition. The Navy acted properly, the GAO said, by restricting competition under the so-called “public interest exception.”
The Navy argued that “full and open competition need not be provided in this procurement based on the public interest exception due to the Mi-17’s proven robust operational capabilities in the extreme environments of Afghanistan, the familiarity of the Afghans with the helicopter platform, and the considerable delays that would hinder the war effort.”
The GAO elaborates:
With regard to the Afghanistan Air Force’s familiarity with the Mi-17, the [Navy] stated that “[i]t is important for the United States to sustain a familiar platform for the Afghans to support the war effort.” Specifically, the [Navy] explained that “[t]he [Afghanistan Air Force] has over 30 years of extensive experience with this platform with nearly 76 percent of the seasoned Afghan helicopter pilots having flown and maintained this platform since the 1980s.” The [Navy] stated that the restriction of the competition to the Mi-17 was warranted because of the need for a “simple and familiar platform,” in light of the difficulties in recruiting and training pilots for the Afghanistan Air Force, such as limited literacy. The [Navy] concluded here that it would take a “minimum of three years” to retrain the current Afghanistan Air Force pilots and maintenance crews, and that a change to a different helicopter “would result in unacceptable delays and significantly impact the mission of…long-term success of the [Afghanistan Air Force].
Bottom line: U.S. citizens, including those working in Sikorsky’s Stratford, Conn., factory, are going to help pay Russians — whose country developed the Mi-17 to help in its brutal occupation of Afghanistan — in the cities of Kazan and Ulan-Ude nearly $400 million to build helicopters for the Afghan military. And there could be even a bigger payoff for Moscow, as Russian military commentator Ilya Kramnik has noted:
For the time being, Russia can remain outside of this war, limiting itself to providing transit services, and perhaps even make a profit – for example, by selling helicopters…If NATO is unable find a solution to the current situation that is acceptable to most of the country’s population in the foreseeable future, then the alliance will be forced to leave Afghanistan in the coming three to four years. Although the consequences of such a withdraw are unknown, it is most likely that the Taliban or another decidedly anti-western power will come to power. And in this case, it would be much easier for Russia, as a country that did not participate in the war, to negotiate with the new leaders of Afghanistan than it would be for the recently expelled occupiers.