U.S. and Russia to supply Afghans with helicopters

Afghan National Army soldiers board a Russian Mi-17 helicopter piloted by US Air Force pilots and Afghan Army crew members from the Afghan National Army Air Corps before a test mission flight from Camp Bastion in Helmand province to Kandahar military base in southern Afghanistan on October 12, 2009.

Jeremy Hobson: Well it would have been unthinkable just a few years ago, but the Pentagon has signed a contract to buy Russian helicopters. The choppers were designed specifically for the Soviet war in Afghanistan in the 1980s, as Peter van Dyk reports from Moscow.


Peter van Dyk: The deal for 21 helicopters for the Afghan Army is worth $375 million. Although there was opposition from both the U.S. defense sector and Congress, the deal is a no-brainer for Russia.

Military expert Alexander Golts, the deputy editor of the Yezhednevniyi Zhurnal online newspaper, says Afghan pilots already know the Mi-17 helicopters.

Alexander Golts: It's much easier to deal with them than with American or Italian helicopters or with any other.

But the clincher? The price: Russian helicopters are cheaper than U.S. or European rivals.

Golts: It's a good deal for the Pentagon, and for Russia as well I think.

Certainly, Russia is happy -- a top Kremlin aide says so. And although U.S. soldiers aren't going to be firing Kalashnikovs or flying MiG fighters anytime soon, Golts says Washington's need to re-equip its new allies in Afghanistan and Iraq mean there could be more such deals in the future.

In Moscow, I'm Peter van Dyk for Marketplace.

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