Procurement: Old School Russian Choppers Are Hot

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June 5, 2009: So far, Iraq has ordered 73 Russian Mi-17 helicopters. Thirty of those that have been delivered are currently in use for transport. Another 26 are equipped with more sensors and electronics for use by Iraqi commandos.

The cost of these Mi-17s varied widely. Some second hand ones from Eastern Europe nations cost less than a million dollars each. Earlier this year, Iraq ordered 22 Mi-17 helicopters from Russia for about $3.7 million each. Four years ago, the U.S. bought 24 refurbished Mi-17s for Iraq, at a cost of $4.4 million each. The most expensive purchase, was for 22 Mi-17s equipped for night operations, and with American electronics. These are costing nearly $15 million each. Questions have been raised about the high price paid for these, which are being acquired by the U.S. for Iraqi commando units.

The Iraqi air force prefers the Mi-17, as the Iraqis have used Russian helicopters for decades. The Mi-17 is the export version of the Mi-8, a twin-engine helicopter, roughly equivalent to the U.S. UH-1. But the Mi-8/17 is still in production and is the most widely exported (2,800 out of 12,000 made) helicopter on the planet.

 The Mi-8 is about twice the size and weight of the UH-1, but only hauls about 50 percent more cargo. However, the Mi-8 had a larger interior, and can carry 24 troops, versus a dozen in the UH-1. The UH-1 was replaced by the UH-60 in the 1980s, while the Mi-8 just kept adding better engines and electronics to the basic Mi-8 frame. But the UH-60, while weighing as much as the UH-1 (4.8 tons), could carry as much as the 12 ton Mi-8. But the Mi-8 costs about half as much as a UH-60, and the larger interior is popular with many users. Russia also offers lower rates for training pilots and mechanics. Russia is keen on establishing good relations with Iraq, which has been a good customer in the past. The Iraqis have fond memories of the Russians, and their military equipment. It was Russia that supplied most of the weapons for Iraq during the 1980s war with Iran.

 


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