Saturday, December 4, 2021

3 Russian-Origin Mi-17 Choppers Land On US Air Force Base In Arizona; No Clarity On Ownership

Three Russian-made Mi-17 helicopters probably belonging to the now-defunct Afghan Air Force arrived at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona on November 19 and will be stationed at the base’s boneyard.

These planes are believed to be among those used by Afghan pilots and other troops to flee to Uzbekistan after the Taliban gained control of Afghanistan in August.

According to TheDrive, the helicopters landed at Davis-Monthan aboard Maximus Air’s lone Antonov An-124 Ruslan cargo jet. Maximus Air is a part of the Abu Dhabi Aviation Group, based in the United Arab Emirates.

This appears to be the first visit to the United States by Maximus Air’s An-124, which bears a Ukrainian registration code UR-ZYD. Internet flight tracking software indicates that the plane traveled from Abu Dhabi International Airport to Bukhara International Airport in Uzbekistan on November 10, 2021.

Afghan_Mi-17
A file photo of an Afghan Mi-17 helicopter. (Wikipedia)

It returned to the UAE on the same day, landed at Al Ain International Airport. The plane then flew from Al Ain to Davis-Monthan on Nov. 17, stopping in Oslo, Norway, and Denver, Colorado along the way.

Uzbek Airfields House Afghan Aircraft

In mid-August, at least 45 Afghan Air Force planes were flown out of the country, most likely to avoid falling into Taliban hands. Several dozen Afghan military assets are seen on the tarmac of Termez International Airport in Uzbekistan, according to satellite footage acquired on August 16.

The C-208 utility aircraft, the A-29 Super Tucano light attack aircraft, and Mi-17, Mi-25, and UH-60 helicopters are among the platforms visible in the images.

The planes and helicopters were no longer visible in airport imagery taken on August 21, indicating that their halt at Termez, Uzbekistan, was only temporary and that they had been transferred.

CSIS
Image courtesy: Centre for Strategic & International Studies.

Then, satellite imagery captured on September 1 showed that the 16 utility/transport attack aircraft previously spotted at Termez International Airport have been transported to Bohktar (Qurghonteppa) International Airport in Tajikistan. Bukhara is around 230 miles northwest of Termez, and it would not have been difficult to move any of these planes there.

Russian-Made Choppers On American Soil 

The US Air Force reportedly acknowledged the arrival of Mi-17 helicopters at its base. According to Derek Kaufman, a spokesperson for Air Force Material Command (AFMC), “the Defense Security Cooperation Management Office-Afghanistan is retrograding US and multinational aircraft from US and overseas maintenance support facilities to the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona.”

Kaufman confirmed the arrival of three Mi-17s at the Tucson AFB, Arizona. The boneyard at Davis-Monthan is managed by the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG).

In July, the Pentagon opened the Defense Security Cooperation Management Office-Afghanistan in Qatar as part of a planned withdrawal of US personnel from Afghanistan before the Taliban’s takeover.

The major purpose of the office was to coordinate security assistance programs for the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF), which included “over the horizon aircraft maintenance support,” according to US authorities at the time of its establishment. Previously, this assistance was channeled through an office in Afghanistan.

Afghan Air Force MiG-21FL Fishbed
A file photo of Afghan Air Force MiG-21FL Fishbed. (via Twitter)
Hundreds of former Afghan Air Force helicopters, as well as fixed-wing aircraft, could be going to the boneyard in the near future, depending on what the US government’s detailed plan is.
As the Taliban concluded their takeover of Afghanistan in August, Afghan Air Force pilots and other military members used various types of aircraft to make their way to neighboring Tajikistan.

Who Owns Those Aircraft?

It’s unclear who owns those aircraft. The US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or SIGAR, said in its most recent quarterly report that it was aware of at least six helicopters, a mix of Mi-17s and UH-60A+s, that were receiving depot maintenance outside of Afghanistan when the Taliban seized power.

Afghan Mi-8MTV-1 helicopter
The first operational Mi-8MTV-1 helicopter of Afghanistan Air Force, captured by the Taliban at Herat Air Base. (via Twitter)

According to SIGAR, another 37 UH-60s that the US government had purchased for the Afghan Air Force but had yet to deliver are also somewhere in the US.

During the final withdrawal of American soldiers from Afghanistan, the Department of Defense managed to move two Hughes MD 530F armed light scout helicopters out of Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, according to the quarterly report.

The US administration has certainly begun to retrieve some Afghan Air Force aircraft and consolidate them at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base’s boneyard. It’s unclear what will happen to them once they arrive.

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