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Letter to General Martin E. Dempsey - Cancel All Contracts With Russian Firm Arming Assad

U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) today sent a letter to General Martin E. Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to express deep concern over the ongoing Department of Defense (DoD) procurement of helicopters from Rosoboronexport, the Russian Federation's official arms export firm providing weapons to Bashar al-Assad in Syria.

"While DoD's relationship with this firm is troubling on many levels, the prospect that American taxpayers have been made into unwitting victims of Russian corruption demands special scrutiny.

"We are concerned by DoD's apparent failure to consider the strategic implications of sourcing mission-critical military equipment from a potentially hostile power such as Russia. DoD's preference for Russian helicopters will also make it highly difficult to achieve robust interoperability between the U.S. and Afghan helicopter fleets, which is in the long-term interests of both nations. These problems are self-inflicted, and this policy is extremely shortsighted.

"For these reasons, we ask that DoD cancel all current contracts with Rosoboronexport, as it has previously confirmed it has the right to do at any time, and fully sever its business relationship with this firm."

The letter is signed by Sens. Cornyn, Begich (D-AK), Ayotte (R-NH), Blumenthal (D-CT), Kirk (R-IL), Gillibrand (D-NY), Boozman (R-AR), Murphy (D-CT), Sessions (R-AL), Wicker (R-MS), Vitter (R-LA), Schumer (D-NY), and Wyden (D-OR). The full text of the letter below.
August 5, 2013

General Martin E. Dempsey
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
9999 Joint Staff Pentagon
Washington, DC 20318-9999

Dear General Dempsey:

We write to express deep concern over your support for the ongoing Department of Defense (DoD) procurement of helicopters from Rosoboronexport, the Russian Federation's official arms export firm, as well as DoD's seeming blindness to the real risk of both Russian corruption in these deals and overreliance on a potentially hostile power. You are on the record, as recently as your Senate reconfirmation hearing on July 18, saying that we should "stay the course with the existing program." In the interests of national security and proper stewardship of taxpayer dollars, we ask you to reconsider.

In June, DoD awarded Rosoboronexport a $572 million contract for the procurement of 30 more Mi-17 helicopters for the Afghan Special Mission Wing, ignoring the recommendation of the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) to halt this procurement. SIGAR, in its June 28 report, cast doubt on the validity of the requirement for the aircraft, providing ample evidence that it is based on unrealistic and outdated projections. We request an explanation of DoD's decision. We also understand that DoD plans to buy approximately 15 more of these aircraft using FY14 funds.

As you know, while Rosoboronexport receives huge payments from DoD, it also continues to serve as a key enabler of atrocities in Syria, transferring weapons and ammunition to prop up the bloodthirsty regime of Bashar al-Assad. DoD has confirmed that Assad's forces have used these very weapons to murder Syrian civilians, and the United Nations estimates that over 100,000 people have been killed. DoD has now awarded well over $1 billion in no-bid contracts to this Russian state-controlled firm, which handles more than 80% of Russia's arms exports. What's more, as recently as 2005, Russia reportedly forgave more than $10 billion of Syria's past arms sales debt. As such, DoD has put American taxpayers in the repugnant position of subsidizing the mass murder of Syrian civilians.

While DoD's relationship with this firm is troubling on many levels, the prospect that American taxpayers have been made into unwitting victims of Russian corruption demands special scrutiny. Rosoboronexport is an arm of the Russian Federation and a key component of Russia's defense establishment, in which corruption is rampant. In June, the British nonprofit group Transparency International published its Government Defence Anti-Corruption Index, giving Russia a D-minus rating as one of the worst-ranked exporters. This group found "evidence of organised crime penetration into defence and security establishments, and little evidence of the government's ability to address this," and it concluded that several top Ministry of Defence officials have convictions on their records.

In May 2011, Russia's chief military prosecutor publicly stated that 20 percent of Russia's own military equipment budget is stolen by corrupt officials and contractors each year, citing practices such as "fake and fictitious invoices" and "kickbacks for state contracts." The head of Russia's National Anti-Corruption Committee independent watchdog put his estimate at 40 percent. Concerns about corruption in Russia's arms trade also reportedly led Iraq to cancel a $4.2 billion arms deal with Russia last year. We have very serious concerns over where the proceeds of DoD's Mi-17 contracts might be going.

In September 2012, one of us raised concerns about the price per aircraft that DoD was paying to Rosoboronexport and persuaded DoD to direct the Defense Contract Audit Agency (DCAA) to conduct a formal audit of the Army's 2011 no-bid contract with the firm. In May of this year, we learned that, due to a total lack of cooperation by Rosoboronexport and months of stalling tactics, DCAA had to abandon the audit. At the same time, DoD was negotiating the $572 million no-bid contract with this firm, but failed to use that leverage to secure its cooperation with the audit. DoD should complete this audit.

We need your personal assurance that American taxpayers are not being cheated out of their hard-earned dollars by corrupt Russian officials and contractors who may be lining their own pockets. Further, we request a briefing on exactly what due diligence DoD did on this issue prior to awarding these contracts to Rosoboronexport, as well as what continuing safeguards DoD has in place to prevent this.

The strategic vulnerabilities that DoD's Mi-17 program have potentially created are also deeply troubling. DoD argues that its direct relationship with Russia's official arms exporter provides essential benefits, such as recognition of "Russian Military Airworthiness Authority," special tools and test equipment, and engineering "reach back" for Mi-17s, which it says includes service bulletins, certification of modifications, root cause corrective actions, lifting of life limits on parts, counterfeit part mitigation, special access to technical info, support for future modifications and fielded aircraft. If DoD's dependence on Russia for Afghanistan's future rotary airlift capacity is as complete as DoD suggests, this raises serious questions: (1) If the Afghan military continues to operate Russian aircraft for decades to come, can it ever be fully independent of Russia? (2) Should Russia decide at some point to withhold support for the Afghan Mi-17 fleet, does DoD have a fallback plan to ensure the Afghan fleet's readiness? (3) Does the overreliance on Russia fostered by this Mi-17 program put the U.S. at risk of Russian coercion or blackmail on other security issues, such as the crisis in Syria, Iran's drive to obtain nuclear weapons, U.S. missile defense, arms control negotiations, or the security of former Soviet republics?

We are concerned by DoD's apparent failure to consider the strategic implications of sourcing mission-critical military equipment from a potentially hostile power such as Russia. DoD's preference for Russian helicopters will also make it highly difficult to achieve robust interoperability between the U.S. and Afghan helicopter fleets, which is in the long-term interests of both nations. These problems are self-inflicted, and this policy is extremely shortsighted.

For these reasons, we ask that DoD cancel all current contracts with Rosoboronexport, as it has previously confirmed it has the right to do at any time, and fully sever its business relationship with this firm.


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