Banana ban: Ecuador faces rift with Russia in Mi-17s for UH-60s swap

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We find ourselves in a new international arms arrangement where the US is set to provide Ecuador with an unspecified number of UH-60A/L Black Hawk helicopters. These Black Hawks are a swap for Mi-17 helicopters that were originally intended to be sent to Ukraine

Photo credit: Flickr

The foundation of these supply arrangements is a set of agreements orchestrated between the US and Ecuador. These agreements, which came into effect in January 2024, detailed plans for transferring Soviet weaponry from Ecuadorian reserves to Ukraine. In exchange, the US agreed to equip the Ecuadorian military with modern gear to efficaciously tackle local drug cartels. 

However, there’s a catch. Only one Mi-17 helicopter planned for air shipment by the Ecuadorian Air Force, is actually serviceable. The remaining fleet, unfortunately, has been reduced to scrap and merely usable spare parts. This captivating saga of international arms dealing is brought to us by the Infodefense portal.

Choppers or spare parts

Let’s delve into this intriguing piece of history, where Ecuador expressed its intent to transfer BM-21 “Grad”, SAM “Osa-AKM”, and Mi-17 helicopters to Ukraine. Sounds straightforward, right? Well, there’s a catch — Russia seems to have responded with an implicit ban on Ecuador’s bananas. As we await details on the timeline of this transfer, the situation stirs up a whirlwind of emotions. 

There’s a silver lining here — Ukraine is familiar with this military hardware. It’s equipment they can readily utilize without needing to invest in infrastructure, and it’s urgently needed on the frontlines. But a question lingers — how quickly can these be integrated into the Armed Forces once the transfer occurs if it ever does? 

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Why the doubt, you ask? Ecuador’s leadership has candidly admitted that the equipment they’re considering handing over is essentially comparable to scrap iron, deemed currently as nonfunctional. The situation stands that Ukraine might end up with a bunch of ‘spare parts donors’ instead of operational machinery. 

Under these circumstances, wouldn’t it be more logical to transfer Western-sourced equipment to Ukraine, perhaps from the United States? Ukraine already has some experience operating the likes of the Black Hawk, even if it is restricted to the GUR MOU wing’s operations. Interesting times lie ahead, to say the least!

The banana ban

Early February saw heightened tension between Ecuador and Russia as a result of Russia’s decision to halt certain banana imports from Ecuador. This situation has been unfolding ever since Ecuador decided to part ways with some of its outdated Russian military equipment. The gear is on its way to the U.S. in a deal valued at $200 million for new military supplies. 

Photo credit: 167th Airlift Wing

The Russian federal agency overseeing veterinary and phytosanitary matters recently imposed a ban on fruit imports from five banana suppliers in Ecuador, citing disease detection in their previous shipments. Ecuador proudly holds the top position in the world for banana exports, having earned about $3.5 billion in 2022 from its sales. It is important to note that approximately one-fifth of these annual sales are made in Russia. 

The turning point that triggered Russia’s decision to stop some banana imports was Ecuador’s President Daniel Noboa’s announcement in January. He revealed plans to ship tons of old Russian military equipment to the U.S., equipment he referred to as “scrap” that is unfit for further use. According to Noboa, this obsolete equipment will be exchanged for upgraded machinery, which is critical to combat the escalating threat of drug gangs. This move did not sit well with the Russian Foreign Ministry, which argued that the decision violated a treaty stating that Ecuador must obtain Russia’s consent before selling the equipment to any third party.

Photo credit: FlightGlobals

About Mi-17 helicopter

The Mi-17 is a multi-purpose helicopter, manufactured by the Russian company, Kazan Helicopters – a subsidiary of the state-owned Rostec. It belongs to the Mi-8/17 family of helicopters, which ranks among the world’s most produced and widely used helicopters. 

The Mi-17 draws power from two Klimov TV3-117VM turboshaft engines, with each engine producing 1900 horsepower. It boasts a maximum speed of 250 km/h and a cruising speed of 225 km/h. This helicopter offers a range of 495 kilometers and a service ceiling of 6000 meters. Its carrying capacity includes up to 36 troops or 12 stretchers along with attendants, or a load of 4000 kg inside the cabin, or 5000 kg of cargo on an external sling. 

Photo credit: 167th Airlift Wing

The Mi-17 cockpit accommodates three crew members, composed of a pilot, a co-pilot, and a flight engineer. It is decked with modern avionics and systems, including a digital autopilot, a weather radar, and a GPS navigation system. The helicopter also features a rear ramp for cargo loading and unloading, along with a side door for passengers. 

Regarding armament, the Mi-17 can be outfitted with a range of weapons depending on the mission requirements. These may include 57 mm rocket pods, 23 mm gun pods, anti-tank guided missiles, and air-to-air missiles. A 12.7 mm machine gun can also be mounted in the nose. The helicopter’s armor is designed to protect the crew and essential systems from small arms fire and shell fragments. 

The Mi-17’s versatility and robustness have made it a favorite among military and civilian operators worldwide. Its diverse roles encompass transport, medevac, search and rescue, fire fighting, and more. The ability to operate in a wide range of conditions, from the Arctic to the desert, further consolidates its utility.

About UH-60 helicopter

The UH-60 Black Hawk is a multi-mission helicopter, developed by Sikorsky, that has been operational in the U.S. Army since 1978. It’s primarily utilized for air assault, medical evacuations, and the transport of personnel and materials. 

The Black Hawk is powered by two General Electric T700 turboshaft engines, each delivering 1,890 shaft horsepower. It boasts a maximum speed of 183 mph and a cruising speed of 173 mph. The helicopter can ascend at a rate of 450 meters per minute and has a service ceiling of 19,000 feet. Although the Black Hawk has a range of 368 miles, this can be extended through in-flight refueling. 

The UH-60 features a four-blade main rotor and a four-blade tail rotor, both of which are made of titanium and fiberglass. The main rotor has a diameter of 53.7 feet, while the tail rotor measures 11 feet in diameter. The overall length of the Black Hawk is 64.10 feet, and it stands at a height of 16.10 feet. 

Photo credit: Pixabay

UH-60’s armament

The Black Hawk can accommodate a crew of four, which includes a pilot, co-pilot, and two crew chiefs, in addition to up to 11 fully equipped troops. It possesses a cargo hook for external lift missions and is capable of transporting up to 9,000 pounds. The cabin, with dimensions of 3.8 meters in length, 2.3 meters in width, and 1.3 meters in height, offers ample space for cargo or medical litter. 

Regarding armament, the UH-60 Black Hawk can be equipped with a variety of weapons, depending on its mission. They include 7.62mm machine guns, 30mm chain guns, and Hellfire missiles. Some variants also support the mounting of additional weapon systems, like the Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System [APKWS].

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