Procurement: Mexico Refurbs Its Russian Helicopters


July 27, 2014: In Mexico the military is refurbishing 21 of the 24 Russian Mi-17 transport helicopters it bought in the late 1990s. The other three have been lost and twelve second-hand Mi-8 transports bought in the late 1990s have been retired. Russian An-124 transports are flying the Mi-17s to Russia for several months of refurbishment and upgrades. The Mi-17s will be returned in early 2015. Meanwhile Mexico has recently been buying American new UH-60s and European EC725s.

The Mi-17 is the export version of the Mi-8, a twin-engine helicopter, roughly equivalent to the U.S. UH-1 ("Huey") made famous in Vietnam during the 1960s. But the Mi-8/17 is still in production and is the most widely exported (about a quarter of the 12,000 produced) 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 ("Blackhawk") 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. Most importantly the Mi-8 costs about half as much as a UH-60, and the larger interior is popular with many users. Russia offers lower fees for training pilots and mechanics. The latest upgrades give the Mi-17 similar capabilities of Western helicopters but with lower operating cost. The Russian helicopters have a higher accident rate, but that can be controlled if the user is strict about enforcing maintenance procedures and standards.



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