U.S. Marines Want to Buy Russian Helicopters to Practice for Potential War

The Marine Corps is requesting Russian aircraft so its troops can practice fighting top-tier enemies, a Corps equipment order has revealed.

Marine Air Ground Task Force Training Command filed a request last week for either a Mi-24 Hind attack helicopter or Mi-17 Hip transport helicopter for use in combat training exercises, Military Times reported.

Russian attack helicopters are designed to target armored vehicles, artillery and infantry units, especially those calling in airstrikes and assisting with air defense. The Marine Corps want Russian aircraft that can perform "intelligence collection" and "air to ground attack" on friendly forces so troops can be trained to fight enemy technology they may one day face.

Russian Hind helicopter
A picture taken during a press tour provided by the Russian Armed Forces on September 15, 2017, shows a Russian Mi-24 Hind attack helicopter in eastern Syria. DOMINIQUE DERDA/AFP/Getty Images

The order explained, "The attack helicopter, due to its size, flight profile, firepower and defensive maneuvering capabilities, constitutes a unique threat" and represents "a realistic, dissimilar and credible opposing force."

The Russian helicopters will contend with Marine rotary and fixed-wing aircraft, and will be used to simulate attacks on ground units, bases, anti-aircraft batteries and refueling facilities. The request says that using the Russian aircraft will "provide familiarization of flight characteristics, capabilities and limitations" of Russian air assets.

The solicitation said that fixed-wing aircraft are also on the Marines' shopping list, though the desire for combat jets is secondary to helicopters. The aircraft will be used in a maximum of five military exercises each year.

Mi-17 Hip
An Mi-17 Hip helicopter takes part in a NATO exercice at San Gregorio training ground near Zaragoza on November 4, 2015. PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU/AFP/Getty Images

The Mi-24 and Mi-17 aircraft—both designed at the Mil Moscow Helicopter Plant—are fielded by a number of different countries. Nations friendly to the U.S., including Ukraine, Iraq and Afghanistan, fly them, as do potential enemies such as Cuba and North Korea.

American military forces have spent much of recent decades fighting low-intensity, low-tech enemies in guerilla campaigns in the Middle East and Asia. The mountains of Afghanistan or the large cities of Iraq are no place for the mammoth tank formations and artillery barrages that were expected if the Cold War turned hot. Counter-insurgency requires a more nuanced approach. Pentagon leaders are concerned that U.S. troops may have lost their high-intensity large-scale combat edge, and are making efforts to maintain and enhance "peer-level threat" training.

The conflict in Ukraine was a wake-up call to those who considered a major state-on-state nation war a thing of the past. Moscow showed willingness to deploy troops and material to fight the government of a European country, reminding the world that large-scale conflict remains a risk. In response, the U.S. and its NATO allies have been investing in conventional weaponry and training in an effort to secure Europe's frontiers.