One day soon, the former Soviet Mi-17 helicopter will rule the skies over Afghanistan.
The U.S. Army is buying 21 new Mi-17s for Afghan forces as part of a program to scale back American aviation assets operating in the country, according to Col. Norbert Vergez in an Army press release.
"There is no air support for Afghanistan other than the Americans as we establish this capability for Afghanistan. With every one of these deliveries we are able to bring Americans home."
The program will equip Iraqi forces with Mi-17s as well. So far, 14 of 22 Mi-17s have been delivered to that country.
In addition to the helicopter purchases, Northrop Grumman is performing maintenance and sustainment on 52 existing Mi-17s in Afghanistan.
The Mi-17 was originally designed by the Russians in the 1970s and was used by the Soviet Army during its nine-year occupation of Afghanistan.
Since that time, the Afghan military has used the Mi-17 and become familiar with the aircraft's operation. It can fly at altitudes up to 19,860 feet and carry 30 troops at a time. It's designed to be armed with missiles, bombs and cannons.
"We're buying those systems because our (service members) don't get to come home until (Iraqi and Afghan militaries) take over the mission and are trained to do it," said Maj. Gen. Tim Crosby, who serves as program executive officer for aviation.