Medium Mainstay: Mi-17s for Iraq

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Iraqi Mi-17, armed(click to view full) Iraq’s Mi-17 medium transport and multi-role helicopters currently form the high end of the IqAF’s rotary-wing fleet, and their use has paced the air force’s slow rebuilding. They support both regular and special forces, flew their first night mission in December 2008, and can even be armed. That versatility, […]
IqAF Mi-17

Iraqi Mi-17, armed
(click to view full)

Iraq’s Mi-17 medium transport and multi-role helicopters currently form the high end of the IqAF’s rotary-wing fleet, and their use has paced the air force’s slow rebuilding. They support both regular and special forces, flew their first night mission in December 2008, and can even be armed. That versatility, and Iraq’s long-standing familiarity with the type, has created a demand for more.

Unfortunately, Iraq has also had poor experiences trying to source these helicopters abroad, including a contract with Poland that was eventually canceled due to quality problems. In December 2006, a formal DSCA request asked to buy 20 more Mi-17s, and in July 2008, WIRED Danger Room both reported and questioned a $325 million contract to the Carlyle Group’s ARINC.

Contracts and Key Events


Mi-171E, Taji
(click to view full)
June 15/11: ARINC Engineering Services, LLC, hands the last 2 of 22 modified Mi-17s to Iraqi representatives in Taji, Iraq. That’s about 6 weeks ahead of the schedule under the July 25/08 contract. Most of the modification work on the new-build Russian helicopters was performed in the UAE.

ARINC Engineering Services also provides maintenance and logistics support services at Camp Taji, Iraq to support the Iraqi Air Force’s Mi-17 helicopters and other aircraft under a separate U.S. Army contract, and provides aircraft maintenance training for the Iraq Air Force. See ARINC’s Aug 4/11 release.

May 9/11: Iraqi and American officials celebrate the delivery of 2 more Mi-171E helicopters, marking the 9th and 10th Mi-171Es to arrive from a 14-aircraft order. M-171Es number 7 and 8 were delivered to the base at the end of April 2011. The remaining 4 Mi-171E helicopters are scheduled to be delivered before fall 2011.

March 2/11: ARINC Engineering Services, LLC in Annapolis, MD receives a $41.7 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract for 1 option year of Mi-17 contractor logistics services in Iraq, with an estimated completion date of March 31/12. One bid was solicited with one bid received by the U.S. Army Contracting Command in Redstone Arsenal, AL (W58RGZ-09-C-0028).

See also Aug 5/10 entry.

Jan 23/11: Iraq Army Aviation Command accepts delivery of 4 new Mi-171E helicopters at its headquarters in Taji, bringing their total inventory to 14 Mi-171Es and 30 Mi-17s. Pentagon DVIDS.

Nov 7/10: The Iraq Army Aviation Directorate accepts delivery of 2 new Mi-171E helicopters at its headquarters in Taji. This brings its total inventory of Mi-171E helicopters to 8, completing the $156 million foreign-military-sales purchase that was coordinated with assistance from the United States Forces-Iraq’s Iraq Security Assistance Mission.

Iraq’s Mi-17 fleet of multipurpose helicopters now includes 8 Mi-171E and 16 Mi-17 helicopters. The helicopters were purchased from Russia and shipped to Sharjae, United Arab Emirates, where they were fitted with upgrades including the latest in avionics equipment and weapons control systems, before being delivered to Taji. USF-I.

Oct 27/10: The Iraq Army Aviation Directorate has 3 instructor pilots complete the flying portion of Mi-17 weapons re-qualification training, working with representatives of United States Forces-Iraq’s Iraq Training and Advisory Mission-Air Force. Bottom line? The Iraqi Army Aviation Directorate is now capable of safely training its own personnel to execute live-fire events from its Mi-17 fleet.

The instructor pilots were required to plan the mission and then execute firing operations for Russian 80mm rockets. The Iraqi Army Aviation Directorate leadership and aircrew coordinated the mission with the approval of the Iraqi Army, and the instructor pilots successfully fired 36 of 40 rockets. Pentagon DVIDS.

Aug 5/10: The US DSCA announces [PDF] Iraq’s official request to buy up to 2 years of contractor logistics support for its Mi-17 Helicopters, and 2 years of logistics support for “U.S.-origin rotary wing aircraft not in DoD’s inventory.” Right now, Iraq’s future Bell 407 armed scout helicopters would also qualify. Depending on exact interpretations, Iraq’s upgraded Huey-IIs might also qualify as sufficiently different from UH-1s in American service.

As with all DSCA requests, this is not a contract yet. The prime contractor would be ARINC in Annapolis, MD, and the estimated cost is up to $152 million. Implementation of this sale will require the assignment of multiple U.S. Government or contractor representatives to Iraq for a period of 2 years, with an option to extend them for additional years.

April 26/10: ARINC Engineering Services in Annapolis, MD receives a $13.7 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract for Mi-17 logistics support and parts in Iraq, with an estimated completion date of March 2/12. One bid was solicited with one bid received by the U.S. Army Contracting Command’s Aviation and Missile Center, CCAM-AR-A at Redstone Arsenal, AL (W58RGZ-09-C-0028).

Feb 10/10: Defense News reports that Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition Ashton Carter has released an Acquisition Decision Memorandum (ADM) to create an American project office for “non-standard” helicopter acquisitions. Mi-17 buys by Iraq and Afghanistan fit that profile. But it will not be a U.S. government-funded office – states buying such helicopters through the Pentagon will need to add funds to pay for the procurement help.

Mi-17 gunner training

IqAF gunnery training
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Oct 14/09: The USAF discusses ongoing progress by their the 721st Air Expeditionary Advisory Squadron, training Iraqi UH-1 and Mi-17 helicopter pilots. The Huey platform was the first Iraqi air force aircraft to fly NVGs on missions, and shortly after, the Mi-17 began to do the same thing. Maj, Elam, from Kirtland AFB, NM:

“Many of the pilots we train with are old regime kind of guys who are in a new program… They bring a lot of experience to the table, but they also bring old habits that we’re trying to break and instill new habits. Since they’ve never had night-vision capabilities before, we’re starting from ground up, teaching them everything from how to operate NVGs, preflight them and maintain them… We recently upgraded several more senior instructors to NVG instructor pilot in a small amount of time… We’re here to help out as much as possible in that end goal, but it’s really about them doing for themselves.”

From the Iraqi side, Iraqi air force Maj. Ammar has flown 5 different aircraft since 1983. The Mi-17 pilot says:

“I like flying because we get good information from the American side… They are teaching us about goggles for flying at night. We’ve never done this before in Iraq. They’re teaching us technical landings and how to attack targets. It’s very important because we now have new information and procedures for flight.”

USAF Maj. Swinehart adds that:

“The young guys who we’re getting in now are really phenomenal pilots. They desire to fly and learn. These guys risk a lot… Back in 2006, 2007, there wasn’t one guy within this squadron who didn’t have his life threatened for being in the Iraqi air force, so these guys care… They stake a lot — their life really — on coming out here and trying to make their country better and doing something with the skills they have, or are going to have.”

Aug 12/09: ARINC Engineering Services Ltd. in Annapolis, MD received an $11.1 million cost-plus-fixed-fee letter contract addition to finalize contract W58RGZ-09-0028, which was awarded on Oct 27/08 but not publicly announced.

The contract involves contractor logistics support, performing maintenance and training Iraq personal to maintain this type of helicopter. It covers up to 17 MI-17 helicopters, with an option for 12 more months covering up to 27 MI-17 helicopters. Work is to be performed in Iraq, with an estimated completion date of Nov 03/10. One bid was solicited with 1 bid received by U.S. Army Contracting Command’s Aviation and Missile Command Contracting Center in Redstone Arsenal, AL (W58RGZ-09-C-0028).

June 1/09: Sharon Weinberger, who has covered the Iraqi Mi-17 saga for WIRED’s Danger Room (see July 25/08 entry), files a follow-on report for Aviation Week’s Defense Technology International. She notes that ARINC’s actual contract for the modified Mi-17s is with Air Freight Aviation, a Russian company based in the United Arab Emirates, adding:

“This arrangement has led to cost overruns and delays. The helicopters were supposed to be delivered starting in February, but the Defense Dept. concedes that the date for first delivery has slipped to 2010, and the contract is between 5 and 10% over the original $322-million budget. Officials insist, however, that the plan is to catch up with deliveries, completing the full contract on schedule. As of now, however, none of the helicopters has left Ulan Ude.”

March 27/09: Aeronautical Radio Incorporated (ARINC) in Annapolis, MD has received an $80.6 million firm fixed price contract for 22 “Mi-17CT helicopters in support of the Iraqi Government.” Work is to be performed at Warner Robins, GA (15%); Dubai, United Arab Emirates (20%, the routing company); and Ulan Ude, Russia, (65%, the Mil helicopter plant) with an estimated completion date of Aug 31/10. One bid was solicited and one bid received by the US Army Program Executive Office for Simulation, Training and Instrumentation in Orlando, FL, which is managing the purchase (W900KK-08-C-0011).

It is not clear whether this Pentagon DefenseLINK announcement represents part of that $325 million award, or a separate deal. DID subscriber DJ Elliott of the Long War Journal adds:

“The April MNSTC-I Advisor says: “The American advisors have trained five squadrons of 55 pilots and 6 gunners.” This is all in relation to Mi-17s only. 4th Transport Squadron and 15th Special Operations Squadron of the IqAF already have their Mi17s. The type of Mi17s in your article’s report indicate another SpecOps Sq is to be built by Aug 2010; 24 birds per squadron is the standard for rotary-wing in the IqAF.

That leaves just two more Mi-17 Squadrons to buy (48; plus spares?) judging by the crew training program. The IqAF and MNSTC-I have stated before that they have 900 Mi17 pilots and engineers that just need refresher training. That is why the Mi17 is to be the primary transport helo…”

March 16/09: At a DoD roundtable [PDF], Col. Lawrence Avery Jr., the US force deputy director of MNSTC-I’s security assistance office:

“…they are in the process of purchasing Bell — in — Bell 407 armed scout, which’ll be a lightly armed — lightly armed helicopter. The first deliveries will be in a couple of years from now. And they purchased 24 of those, and they have a request in, as they evaluate their budget, for potentially buying 26 more, for a total of 50. So that’s what they’re — that’s what they’re in the process of buying.

They have Mi-17s that they already own. They have Mi-17s — the 22 that were talked about earlier that are (in bounds/inbound ?) that — they’re looking at options for maybe arming some of those.”

Mi-17 NVG training

Mi-17 NVG training
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Dec 3/08: Mi-17s of the new Iraqi armed forces fly their first night mission outside their air base at Taji, Iraq, flying over the skies of Baghdad. US CENTCOM | Middle East Newsline.

July 30/08: A WIRED Danger Room report adds that ARINC and the US Army would “route a Russian helicopter sale through a UAE-based firm in an attempt to avoid dealing with Russia’s [Rosoboronexport arms export agency, which is under American sanctions].” ARINC and Army PEO-STRI both declined to answer further questions, and WIRED has filed a Freedom of Information request.

July 25/08: WIRED’s Danger Room reports a $325 million contract to the Carlyle Group’s ARINC for 22 Mi-17s. That WIRED report raised a number of questions about the deal, beginning with a cost that could be up to 100% more than other Mi-17 orders around the world. The report also questioned the lack of any competitive solicitation, despite the existence of numerous Mi-17 sources, and brokers in North America and abroad.

Feb 5/07: The International Herald Tribune discusses Iraq’s Mi-17 efforts:

“The Iraqi government originally ordered a fleet of Russian helicopters from a Polish contractor as part of $400 million in arms deals in 2004 and 2005 that turned out to be corrupt. Lieutenant General Nasier Abadi, the deputy commander of the Iraqi Joint Forces, said in an interview that many of the helicopters in that deal were more than a quarter-century old and could never have been flown.

“It’s the worst deal,” Abadi said. “They were beyond their lifetimes.”

That deal, a serious embarrassment for both the United States and Iraq, has received wide publicity. But in an undisclosed development, Abadi said, Iraq has renegotiated an arrangement that will now bring 28 new Mi-17s to the air force. The four new helicopters at Taji, about 24 kilometers, or 15 miles, north of Baghdad, are part of that arrangement, he said.”

Sept 19/06: Iraq issues a formal DSCA request to buy a raft of small arms, along with some vehicles and helicopters, under US weapons export rules. The request includes 20 Mi-17 helicopters. Read “Up to $750M in Weapons & Support for Iraq.”

Additional Readings

* Aviation Week (June 1/09) – Problems for U.S. Russian Helicopter Order

* WIRED Danger Room (July 25/08) – Did the U.S. Army Arrange a ‘Sweetheart’ Deal to Sell Russian Helicopters to Iraq?

* International Herald Tribune (Feb 5/07) – Rebuilding Iraq’s air force a challenge for U.S. trainers

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