DeLauro seeks halt to Pentagon purchase of Russian ‘copters

Rep. Rosa DeLauro — and a group of other lawmakers with defense contractors in their districts — have once again asked the Pentagon to stop buying helicopters from Russia to be used in the war in Afghanistan.

The Pentagon is buying Mi-17 helicopters from state-owned Rosoboronexport because the Afghan security services are familiar with them. It’s also easier if you’re in Afghanistan to obtain parts and modifications for a helicopter from Russia than the United States.

But DeLauro, D-3rd District, and her colleagues called the Pentagon’s assertions that Mi-17s are the only helicopters Afghan pilots know how to fly and the only ones capable of meeting mission requirements “completely unacceptable.”

In a letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, DeLauro and her like-minded colleagues said Russia has continued to sell billions of dollars of weapons to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, “supporting his brutal crackdown on his own people,” and should be barred from selling helicopters to the United States.

“We therefore strongly urge you to ban any future contracts with Rosoboronexport, reconsider any future purchase of Mi-17s for Afghanistan or any country, and hold an open competition for the procurement of helicopters based upon valid requirements whereby U.S. manufacturers can compete,” the lawmakers’ letter said.

Last month, the Pentagon received two of 12 helicopters ordered from Rosoboronexport through a $220 million contract Connecticut-based Sikorsky unsuccessfully tried to block.

DeLauro and her colleagues received a boost last month when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said U.S. officials are pressing Russia to shut down shipments of Rosoboronexport helicopters to Syria’s military for use against rebel fighters and civilians.

But the Pentagon said they won’t stop buying the Russian helicopters.