in Afghanistan are scrambling to try and get some additional helicopters before
Winter sets in. This will be expensive, but apparently money is not a major
obstacle. A medium lift helicopter, like the Mi-17, costs about $420,000 a
month for the chopper, crew and maintenance. This includes hazardous duty pay
for the crew. Commercial helicopter leasing companies are accustomed to
providing aircraft in combat zones. They do it for relief organizations in war
zones all the time. In Iraq, civilian security companies, especially
Blackwater, maintain a sizable fleet of helicopters. The pilots are usually
former military, and many have combat experience. They make several times what
they did while in the military.
NATO has never had enough
helicopters in Afghanistan. This is particularly embarrassing because U.S.
forces are better equipped with helicopters, and operate more effectively
because of it. The problem is that European nations either don't have military
helicopters suitable for service in the hot and high (and dusty, and freezing
in the Winter) conditions of Afghanistan, or their helicopter units are not
organized and trained for service overseas, or the politicians don't want to
send their helicopters abroad. The solution is apparently to lease helicopters,
including crews and support personnel, from civilian firms.
An American firm has been
asked to arrange for leased helicopters. This may involve subcontracting, with
Russian firms as prime candidates. Russian and Ukrainian companies are already
supply heavy jet transports for the NATO forces. These same companies have
helicopters available as well. The Russians know their choppers will work in
Afghanistan, because of their experience during the 1980s. Many of the same
helicopter types are still in service, although with updates. Safety and
reliability standards for Russian helicopters have also increased.
There are also many
non-Russian firms that offer helicopter leasing for challenging environments
(mainly oil field or mining operations support). But the Russians are cheaper,
and are less concerned with getting shot at. The leased helicopters will be
based in Kandahar, and be used to keep NATO troops off dangerous stretches of
road. That's because more than half of NATO casualties have been caused by
roadside bombs and suicide bomb attacks.