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LOTN completes overhaul of first Mi-17V-5 for the AAF

Slovak aviation repair plant LOTN (Trencin) has overhauled the first Mil Mi-17V-5 (NATO reporting name: Hip-H) utility rotary-wing aircraft of the Afghan Air Force (AAF), according to the Slovak Ministry of Defense (MoD).

LOTN completes overhaul of first Mi 17V 5 for the AAF 001 A first Mi-17V-5 helicopter has been overhauled by LOTN
(Credit: Slovakia Ministry of Defense)

"LOTN completed the general overhaul of the first AAF Mi-17V-5 helicopter. On July 28, the rotary-wing aircraft was sent back to Afghanistan," the MoD said in a statement. The LOTN company was awarded with the contract for the overhaul of the AAF Mi-17V-5 helicopters two years ago, in 2016.

The aforementioned Mi-17V-5 helicopter made its first test flight in Slovakia. This flight will be followed by several test flights in Afghanistan.

This helicopter became the first Mi-17V-5 platform, which was overhauled by a member state of the European Union (EU) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Director General of LOTN Martin Dusanic said. "I would praise the expert work done by the LOTN staff. The outcome speaks for our capability to win international bids, despite harsh competition on the market," he added.

LOTN did not disclose the schedule of the overhaul process. "Further deliveries of the [Mi-17V-5] overhauled helicopters to Afghanistan are scheduled for next year [2019]," the company said.

The AAF is an operator of the Mil utility helicopters. According to the Military Balance 2018 analytical book published by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), the service had the following Mil utility rotary-wing platforms in its inventory as of early 2018: 44 Mi-17Mi-17V-5 helicopters. The Afghan military`s Special Mission Wing (SMW) operated 28 more Mi-17/Mi-17V-5 helicopters.

The Mi-17V-5 is an export-oriented variant of the Mi-8MTV-5 utility rotary-wing platform that has been delivered to the Russian Armed Forces. According to the helicopter`s manufacturer, the Russian Helicopters holding (a subsidiary of the Rostec state corporation), the Mi-17V-5 has a maximum take-off weight of 13,000 kg, a useful payload of up to 4,000 kg, a flight range of 580 km with internal fuel tanks and 1,065 km with two external fuel tanks, and a service ceiling of 6,000 m. The Mi-17V-5 can transport up to 36 fully equipped servicemen or 12 wounded soldiers on stretchers. The helicopter is also capable of carrying of a 4,000 kg sling-loaded cargo.

Due to the sanctions imposed by the United States and Western Europe against Russia, the Pentagon has decided to switch the AAF from its Mi-17-family helicopters to the refurbished UH-60A Black Hawks utility rotary-wing platforms. The U.S. military is planning to reduce the size of the AAF Mi-17 fleet from 47 aircraft to 20 aircraft. The fleet will be decreased to 18 by end-2021 then to 12 by end-2022. Afghanistan is slate for receiving of 159 Black Hawks, of which eight were delivered to the country as of March; 45 more UH-60s were procured.

However, the Black Hawk falls short of the Mi-17V-5 in terms of reliability and useful payload. "They [the UH-60As] are unable to accommodate some of the larger cargo items the Mi-17s can carry, and in general, it takes almost two Black Hawks to carry the load of a single Mi-17," the Lead Inspector General (LIG) at the Pentagon for the Freedom’s Sentinel operation in Afghanistan said in the ‘Operation Freedom`s Sentinel’ report to the US Congress. "Furthermore, unlike Mi-17s, Black Hawks cannot fly at high elevations and, as such, cannot operate in remote regions of Afghanistan where Mi-17s operate," the official added.

The Mi-17/Mi-17V-5 helicopters feature outstanding serviceability, the aforementioned document states. "Afghans are performing roughly 80 percent of the maintenance tasks on their Mi-17s and rely on contractor logistics support for the remaining 20 percent," the LIG said. Therefore, the AAF transition from the Mi-17/Mi-17V-5, which is famous for its robustness and high reliability, to the UH-60A seems to be senseless. "As Mi-17s phase out of service, these challenges will become more pronounced," the LIG concluded.

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