US to Spend $771M on Planes Afghans Can’t Use

SIGAR recommends suspending activity on contracts

An Mi-17 helicopter used by the Afghan Air Force / AP
June 28, 2013

The U.S. government is about to spend more than $771 million on military aircraft that the Afghan people "lack the capacity to operate," according to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR).

The Department of Defense says that it is moving forward with the purchase despite SIGAR'S warning that the planes will go to waste.

SIGAR only discovered the DOD's plans while performing an audit of its Afghan Special Mission Wing (SMW).

"SIGAR is recommending that DOD suspend all activity under the contracts awarded for the 48 new aircraft until capacity issues are properly addressed," it said in a press release Friday morning.

SIGAR additionally discovered that "DOD awarded $553 million to Rosoboronexport, a Russian government agency, after receiving SIGAR’s recommendations that moving forward was imprudent," according to the release.

Lt. Col. James Gregory, a Pentagon spokesman, told the Washington Free Beacon that it does "not concur with the SIGAR report recommendation" and that a delay in shipment is not in the United States’ security interests.

SIGAR's audit of SMW found that the planes are not useful because the Afghans have hired illiterate and untrained pilots to fly them.

The Afghan forces have experienced "difficulty finding recruits who are literate and do not have associations with criminal/insurgent activity," according to the audit.

"Only seven pilots are qualified to fly with night vision goggles, which is necessary for most counter-terrorism missions," SIGAR reported.

The SMW program also has poor U.S. government oversight, leading to waste and problems in sustaining what the DOD believes is a critical project in post-war Afghanistan.

"NATO and DOD do not have a plan with milestones and dates for achieving full strength for the SMW to justify the fleet size," SIGAR reported, noting that most maintenance projects are still performed by the United States.

"DOD performs 50 percent of maintenance and repair and 70 percent of critical maintenance and logistics management for SMW and does not have a plan for transferring these functions to the Afghans," SIGAR said.

The United States still intends to spend $109 million per year despite the flaws, "for oversight, maintenance, training, and logistics support for the next several years," according to SIGAR.

These deeply entrenched problems have contributed to the program's slow growth.

"SMW had less than one-quarter of the 806 personnel needed to reach full strength and during the length of the audit made no tangible growth," SIGAR found.

In addition, the "Afghan Ministries of Defense and Interior do not have an agreement on the SMW command and control structure, impacting growth and capacity," according to SIGAR.

SIGAR predicts that once the United States fully exits Afghanistan in the coming year the Afghans will not be prepared to maintain or operate the planes.

Gregory said delaying the shipment of planes until SIGAR’s performance criteria are met "would not be in our national interest."

"Delaying contract award pending agreement between the ministries on transition of SMW administrative control would unacceptably delay our efforts to develop the SMW into a capable force," Gregory said.

"The contract for the PC-12 [planes] was signed on Oct. 13, 2012, and the contract for the Mi-17 [planes] was finalized on June 16, 2013," he said.

The SMW is still a relatively new creation, meaning that improvement efforts are already underway, the official said.

"The SMW was formally established less than a year ago and sustainment efforts, including training, are presently underway," Gregory said. "Delivery of the aircraft in question will take place over the next eighteen months. This will include training on how to operate and maintain the aircraft and associated equipment."

"DOD has been implementing or has agreed with implementing the other recommendations in the report, which will help avoid the adverse outcome that it warns against," he added.