The title says it all: “[Department of Defense] Moving Forward with $771.8 Million Purchase of Aircraft that the Afghans Cannot Operate and Maintain.” That’s the title of a report released today by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR).
According to SIGAR, the idea was to establish a Special Mission Wing (SMW) for Afghan forces to support counterterrorism and counternarcotics operations with 48 new aircraft. Sierra Nevada Corporation got $218 million for 18 PC-12 fixed wing aircraft and the Russian government arms supplier Rosoboronexport got $553.8 million for 30 Mi-17 helicopters. Problem is, there’s hardly anyone to fly the aircraft, much less maintain them. Currently, DOD contractors perform 50 percent of the maintenance on the current helicopter fleet and 70 percent of the critical maintenance, logistics, and procurement of parts.
From the report:
We question the wisdom of moving ahead with the provision of 30 new Mi-17s and 18 PC-12s unless these issues are properly addressed. We believe that the purchase and delivery of the aircraft should be contingent on the SMW’s achievement of personnel and maintenance and logistics support milestones and indications that the SMW has the capacity to execute its mission and operate and maintain its fleet. Without an effective support structure, U.S.-funded SMW aircraft could be left sitting on runways in Afghanistan, rather than supporting critical missions, resulting in waste of U.S. funds.
As of January, the SMW had less than 25 percent of the personnel required for full operation. To maintain current level of operations, DOD personnel and contractors are tasked with assisting on missions. Literacy requirements and disqualifications for previous (or ongoing) ties to criminal activities severely limit the pool of potential personnel.
The logistical and operational challenges of staffing, equipping, and running the SMW are great. Instead of rushing ahead with new acquisitions because that was the original plan, DOD should step back and ensure that the SMW is prepared to operate them. It doesn’t make sense to give someone a Ferrari if they don’t know how to drive a stick shift.
DOD disregarded SIGAR’s draft report encouraging them not to acquire the aircrafts and went ahead and awarded the contracts. Now that the final report has been released, it’s another opportunity to reconsider that mistake. Taxpayers for Common Sense agrees with SIGAR’s revised guidance and recommends suspending the contracts immediately.
Sticking with SIGAR, in another recent report, the Special Inspector General highlighted that they had received dozens of reports that prime contractors awarded U.S. government contracts were not paying their Afghan subcontractors. Besides practical implications for subcontractors, these non-payments could seriously undermine any efforts at a successful reconstruction and actually increase Afghan antipathy to the United States.